Perhaps more than any time in recent memory, the annual rite of passage that sees professional educators and students returning to classrooms is filled with excitement and possibilities. Students get to meet new teachers, reconnect with friends, and embark on an exciting journey of knowledge-gathering and intellectual growth. Educators renew collaborations with colleagues and share new information, perspectives, and lesson plans.
“When we see a starting date on a calendar or back to school displays, we immediately envision circles of kids on a rug and classrooms full of students,” says Karen Lauritzen, a 20-year veteran teacher at Mullan Trail Elementary School in Post Falls. “And the first few days of the new school year are critical in creating a community within your classroom and your building, because helping students and parents feel like they belong sets up success for the whole year.”
Educators are justifiably proud of what they have accomplished over the last 18 months as the COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on schedules, teaching and learning modalities, and the health and safety of everyone concerned. So, in many respects, the 2021-22 school year represents a fresh start, but that same anxious and exciting dynamic exists at the start of every school year.
Much like other years, Idaho’s dedicated educators have spent a good chunk of their summer preparing to welcome students back to their classrooms. An often-overlooked aspect of preparation for veteran teachers is being ready to assist early career educators. “We know there will be new teachers, and it’s important that we have our own ducks in a row so we can provide them with the mentoring they need,” says Lauritzen.
There is also anticipation about the camaraderie and collaboration with fellow educators in Minidoka. “We got into this profession because, individually and collectively, we want to enrich the lives of our students,” says IEA member-educator Sarah Pelayo. In her own case, Sarah is excited about the chance to utilize a new sublimation printer with her CTE students. The printer enables students to apply designs to a variety of surfaces, including glass, wood, and cloth.
Pelayo is also excited about re-booting her work with the district’s Youth Entrepreneur program. “It’s a great opportunity for them to dream and create, and to fail forward, if necessary,” she says.
And don’t discount the importance of the socialization aspect of returning to school, especially this year. “The last year has been tough on students because they have been somewhat isolated during the public health crisis,” Sarah notes. “We are inherently social creatures, and the students have a pent-up anxiousness to reconnect with their peers and to be active and engaged again.”
IEA President Layne McInelly echoes the sentiments of excitement and anticipation. “Our public schools are both a rite of passage and a springboard to success for so many students,” he says. “The passionate work of our dedicated member-educators, along with the collaboration between our local education associations and their districts are the foundation for achievement throughout the state.”