Wotring calls Preston educators ‘rock stars’ for enduring efforts
KINGWOOD — For Preston County teachers, the virtual education process undertaken this year is a heavy workload.
But Preston Schools Superintendent Steve Wotring hopes that as the process becomes routine it will become less burdensome.
“Are we perfect? No. Are we getting there? We are,” Wotring said recently.
“I think in this initial month and a half we just really had to work out how it was going to work,” he said.
Preston’s teachers — whom he calls “rock stars” — were developing a method for reaching in-person and virtual students’ needs at the same time.
“It is a monumental task we are asking of our teachers to really pull this off,” Wotring said. But he’s been impressed by what he’s seen in classroom visits.
Sarah Waugh, who is president of the Preston County Education Association and a middle school math teacher at Aurora School, said it requires a great deal of preparation and planning.
“This year experienced teachers, it’s like their first year of teaching,” Waugh said. “We’ve never done in-school and virtual at the same time. So just the amount of planning and thinking about how lessons are going to run and run smoothly and is every student getting everything they could possibly need to succeed?”
It can be hard, “when they aren’t right in front of you,” to know if that’s happening, Waugh said.
Preston students who attend in-person are in the classroom Monday through Thursday and do remote learning on Fridays. The county also has about 790 virtual students.
Fridays are to plan, make and upload videos, and conference with students.
“Depending on the teacher, depending on how many virtual students they have, some of them don’t even have time to plan,” Waugh said. “They’re meeting all day with their virtual students.”
She’s thankful for Fridays. But, “the workload is quite hefty,” Waugh said.
While some teachers are able to limit themselves to regular working hours, others can’t. On the day interviewed, she was at school from 7 a.m. until after 4 p.m.
“It’s just depending on the teacher but yes, we’re putting in a lot more hours. There’s some teachers who will come in at 5 in the morning to make sure they have everything prepared,” Waugh said.
Michelle Liga, president of Local 6430 (Preston County) of the American Federation of Teachers, said, “many of the teachers are working outside of their regular school day. It is typical to drive past a school and see vehicles still in the lot at 6 p.m.”
Though it isn’t required by the county, some teachers work on sick days and days off.
“Teachers do this because they care about the students and want them to have the best education that they can offer,” Liga said.
The preparation time is overwhelming, especially in the beginning, Wotring said, and that’s why the Friday remote learning days are done. Though Preston has had a virtual program for two years, teachers didn’t do in-person and virtual at the same time.
Though he doesn’t foresee a time when the process doesn’t require time by teachers, Wotring thinks as teachers refine the process, “we won’t be taking so much time trying to figure out what we’re doing. It will be a matter of planning for instruction.”
Does virtual school work?
“I really think it depends what school you’re at. Every teacher has a different workload. That really varies from classroom to classroom what their workload is, so not everybody’s going to have the same opinion on whether or not you feel like it’s working or not,” Waugh said.
And despite the preparation, sometimes the technology fails. On a recent day Waugh was teaching, she felt she was connecting with virtual students, when the internet went out.
“What do you do?” she said with a laugh.
Liga said that many of the teachers in the Preston AFT do not feel it is an effective way to work with students.
Waugh said she doesn’t have all the answers, but as a teacher, not having in-class and virtual students at the same time “would be a huge help.” That would require hiring more teachers, which isn’t in the budget.
And she understands Wotring’s stand on using Preston County teachers, rather than the West Virginia Virtual School format put forth by the state, which counties have to buy.
“There’s some really neat things going on. There’s some areas where we’re struggling to make it all work. We have some children who are not connecting as often as we would like them to. But we’ve come so much further than I ever dreamed, and it’s really because of our teachers.”
Waugh didn’t want to lose her students, whom she cares for. But, “virtual and in-class, it’s a lot.”
Liga thinks the solution has to come from elsewhere: “State funding for virtual teachers. The difficulty teachers are finding with the current situation is trying to juggle the in-school students with the virtual students.”