Knox County teacher working to keep students learning as absences pile up

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Dave Gorman, a seventh grade science teacher at Cedar Bluff Middle School, said he’s worried about the current situation of COVID-19 in schools. More cases are spreading, which means more students and staff are absent.

Gorman says what he’s seeing at his school is what most schools in the district are dealing with right now.

“You have custodians who are out sick, you have bus drivers who are out sick, you have cafeteria workers who are out sick,” Gorman said.

He’s proud of his fellow teachers showing up and working hard every day. He said they have a different set of challenges to work with this year compared to last year.

One of those new challenges is switching back to somewhat normal procedures when we’re still in a pandemic.

“Managing fuller classrooms, class changes and cafeteria times that look different this year than they did last year because we have more kids in the building,” Gorman said.

Gorman said when he looks at his classroom, school and district as a whole, he knows they can do more to create a safer environment. They did it last year, and he believes it helped mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

“Mandatory masks, handwashing and hand sanitizers, and social distancing in our classrooms, in the hallways and in our cafeteria. Those things that we know were helping. That’s not working so well when it’s a voluntary thing,” Gorman said.

He said despite the interruptions from student’s missing too much class, he and other teachers are trying to make sure kids are still learning.

Gorman said there was a learning gap for some students coming into the new school year, so he tries to help get students back on track educationally. However, there’s also a social learning curve that some students missed by jumping from a normal fifth-grade school year, a virtual sixth-grade year, and back to a semi-normal seventh-grade school year.

“Some of these kids are, they were pretty traumatized,” Gorman said. “And so, trying to figure out what they need from me or somebody else, you know, a guidance counselor can provide for them. Those are always challenges, but this year, we talk more as a staff about those things.”

Gorman said in the classroom, he doesn’t mention COVID-19 and the static from outside the school, like what happens at school board meetings. He only mentions masks if a student asks for one, although he does wish more students wore them.

He said he’s trying to make this school year more normal by bringing back activities they couldn’t really do with virtual learning. On that list, he hopes, is dissecting frogs.

“They want to do hands-on science when we can, and we weren’t able to do that last year. So we’ve done some labs that the kids have been really excited about this year, which is fun for me as a teacher and it’s much more enjoyable for them as students.”

Gorman’s concerns for this year mostly revolve around safety protocols and absences due to COVID-19. He said more support from the Knox County Board of Education, like implementing mask and safety policies, would be welcomed.

“We’re scared. We’re already tired. We’re worried about what it’s going to look like next week and the week after that,” Gorman said. “I am concerned that we’ll lose more teachers, and God forbid a student this year.”

Gorman said there is one aspect from this year he hopes continues: parental involvement. He said parents have been more vocal than ever before, and that support is needed right now, especially since several teachers are afraid to voice their own concerns.

According to the KCS COVID-19 dashboard, there was a sharp increase of COVID-19 cases reported from the day before. There were a total of 746 active cases: 594 were students and 152 were staff.

That’s up from 331 the day before, with 277 student cases and 54 staff cases.

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