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Like in metro areas, small town teachers face challenges as students return

Posted at 9:28 AM, Aug 14, 2020

NEPHI, Utah – We all know teachers have incredibly tough jobs where they are asked to wear many hats. This year, amid the COVID pandemic, it will be a school year unlike any other.

Schools in metropolitan areas are often the focus of media coverage, but teachers in rural parts of our country are facing the same problems.

In the Juab School District in Nephi, Utah, the teachers are heading back to school. Classrooms are getting those finishing touches. Cleaning stations sit ready and desks are waiting to be filled.

“It’s going to look a lot different than we’ve experienced in the past,” said Natalie Darrington, a math teacher in the Juab School District.

Darrington is used to working with numbers. Smaller class sizes, plus fewer teachers, equals all sorts of fun interactions.

“I know all the kids and I love seeing them in the grocery store” Darrington said. “I can’t go to the grocery store in my pajamas.”

This year, the equation is not the same. Add in COVID-19, a pretty mean multiplier.

“I don’t know how many students are going to show up,” Darrington said. “I don’t know how many students are going to elect to go online on any given day.”

Like many districts across the country, students can choose how they learn this year.

“The biggest struggle we face right now with COVID is getting support for the technology we need to be using,” said Juab School District Superintendent Kodey Huges.

Even in a district with less than 3,000 students, Hughes said the hurdles are high.

“The teachers can only do the great job they can do if they have the resources and the support to get out of the way so they can do it,” Hughes said.

Enter small town ingenuity and hard work.

This year, veteran teachers, like Mrs. Darrington, are becoming coaches to newer hires.

“A lot of teachers leave the profession of teaching not because of money, but because we have to wear a lot of hats,” Darrington said.

The hope is that together they can make it through this science experiment of a school year.

“We’re just rolling with the punches here,” Darrington said with a laugh.

The halls of Juab Junior High School will be a place where positive thinking is just as important as critical thinking.

“My mantra this year is attitude,” Hughes said with a smile.

As it is with any lifelong educator, there is always a lesson to be learned.

“I know it’s stressful and overwhelming, but I feel like if we waste this opportunity to learn and to grow then it’s been all for not,” Darrington said.