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Mary Lou Phelps

Aside from frontline healthcare workers, perhaps no profession has been asked to do more during the COVID-19 pandemic than our teachers. Even the most experienced of educators had to adapt on the fly on a daily basis to the challenges presented by the pandemic. Mary Lou Phelps, a teacher at E.W. Wyatt Middle School, said her years of teaching could never have prepared her for the year that was 2020.

“Teaching during the pandemic has been extremely stressful,” Phelps said. “It did not matter how many years of experience I had, diving headfirst into the world of virtual teaching made me feel like a first-year teacher all over again. I face each day with a feeling of uncertainty. No matter how much time I take to plan a lesson or how prepared I think I am, I am at the mercy of my devices and Internet connection.”

In Phelps’ case, one of the biggest challenges was building strong connections with her students in a virtual setting. She said regardless of the teaching style or lesson being given, building a trusting teacher-student relationship is crucial for creative a positive and supportive classroom environment. And while this is not impossible to do in a Google Meet or Zoom session, it’s more difficult than it has ever been before.

For all of the challengers Phelps faced, her hard work has not gone unnoticed. She was just named the Wyatt Middle School Teacher of the Year for the 2020-2021 school year.

During a year when so much about the classroom changed, Phelps explained why her biggest hurdle was “time.”

“It is a very precious resource that I never seem to have enough of,” Phelps said. “Prior to the pandemic, I taught three 90-minute classes, and I still felt like I never had enough instructional time in the school year to cover all the objectives in the curriculum framework. This year, my classes were shortened to 60 minutes. The same amount of material has to be covered, but in a shorter amount of time. Mere words cannot begin to express the amount of stress teachers feel on a daily basis.”

Phelps said Greensville County Public Schools did a great job helping teachers navigate the troubles of teaching in a virtual setting. During the workshops, Phelps said she felt lost and defeated at times. But, she was reminded of how her students might feel the same way in her classroom.

“It reminded me that what might seem simple for some students can be extremely challenging for others,” Phelps said. “Keeping that in mind I strive every day to support the diverse needs of all my students.”

Collaborating with fellow teachers in a virtual setting has been a highlight of Phelps’ pandemic experience. While challenging, the virtual platform has given her the opportunity to work side by side with teachers she normally wouldn’t have the chance to work with. The melding of minds and pooling of resources has allowed Phelps and others to thrive as students begin finding their way back into the school building.

“I am excited to have my students return on May 6,” Phelps said. “It will bring a sense of normalcy back into our school.”