HARRISONBURG — Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam and Secretary of Education Atif Qarni sat down to speak with Rockingham County teachers about recruitment, infrastructure, access to broadband, technology, standardized testing and traumatized students on Monday.
The state officials spoke with 15 teachers and leaders at the Rockingham Academy in Harrisonburg as part of National Teacher Appreciation Week, which began Monday. Qarni will spend the week touring Virginia speaking to educators.
The nation’s labor shortage found its way to education, as Oskar Scheikl, superintendent of Rockingham County Public Schools, explained that fewer candidates apply for open positions, and not just in Rockingham.
“We know it’s an enormous problem statewide,” he said.
Area university graduates are one source that can be used to recruit teachers, especially if they have had experience in local schools, roundtable participants said.
But for new and old teachers, it is as vital as ever to build strong relationships with students, the teachers agreed.
The roundtable tackled the Standards of Learning standardized tests, talking effectiveness and how much they actually reflect student progress.
“We have so many students who can do huge equations but can’t read fractions on a ruler,” said Christopher Michael, the art teacher at Peak View Elementary School in Penn Laird.
Progress should be seen as a whole instead of reliant on only one indicator, such as an SOL, many teachers said.
A student’s progress over an academic year “just can’t be measured by one test in May,” Michael said.
One solution, according to some teachers, is more projects and scenario-based questions.
And many students grow frustrated when they are confronted with information they don’t see as relevant to their lives, said Bridgett Crawford, a sixth-grade English teacher at Wilbur Pence Middle School in Dayton.
“We need to bring more real-life aspects into what were teaching instead of just teaching them to test,” she said.
However, all the roundtable agreed on the importance of tracking student progress during their time in school.
“We have to measure our students progress by some means,” Northam said.
Technology was also discussed in terms of balance, with the opportunities for learning as well as distraction stemming from screen time.
Though students have been issued small laptops, which in some cases may be taken home, access to broadband is still a challenge in many students’ homes, teachers said.
Getting to children early in assuring support from schools while having communication with parents play a large role in students’ lives, especially those coming from trauma, some teachers said.
Helping students onto a career path where they can be successful is also a role teachers agreed to play.
“We want them to leave and do great things,” said Blair Harper, a fourth-grade teacher at Linville-Edom Elementary.
We’re “trying to raise not students, but citizens — this is our future,” Harper said.