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Educators discuss the challenges of the school year and the pandemic

A teacher, a principal, and a school counselor reflect on the struggles of teaching with the threat of COVID and their hopes for the new school year.

KNOX COUNTY, Tenn. — Knox County Schools are back in session this week, and teachers, students and staff are facing different challenges.

Last year was tough with mask-wearing, contact tracing and virtual school. 

"The levels of anxiety were definitely up for everybody," said Jennifer Pointer, a school guidance counselor at Central High School. 

"There was just a lot that we were doing differently, a lot of change, a lot of transition," said Melissa Johnson, principal at Christenberry Elementary. 

Teachers, principals and counselors all felt the pain of the pandemic.

"We saw families that lost jobs, families that were scared to go out in public for different things or lacked the resources they needed so that put a lot of stress on our students," said Pointer. 

The stress, the inconsistency and teaching in that environment came with a lot of uncertainty.

"Our children have suffered learning loss," said Johnson. 

"On an emotional level, I did feel like I saw some loss or some deficits there just being able to work with others, interact with others. I think that might be the part I'm worried about instead of academically what they may have lost," said Kelsey Altshuler, a first-grade teacher at Christenberry Elementary. 

DOCUMENTARY: One year. One elementary school. One historic pandemic.

Student's mental health is also a big focus in Knox County Schools. KCS added 24.5 guidance counselor positions to their staff. But parents can help too. 

"Learn how to manage your stress, learn how to ask for help, learn how to recognize those signs and symptoms of anxiety, depression all those things," said Pointer. 

All in all, educators agree it's a new day, a new year and they are optimistic.

"We all pulled together and it feels like you survived something really difficult and so there's something about that, that's really special," said Pointer.

"We want to make sure that we structure school so that they feel safe coming to school and that they feel loved at school and that they know the teachers are here to help them learn," said Johnson. 

"I would be lying to say I'm not nervous at all about where the pandemic could be or where it is right now but I'm prepared to be flexible and do whatever it takes," said Altshuler.