New teacher orientation kicked off Wednesday in the Clark County School District as newcomers prepare to start their job amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The new licensed professionals — including teachers, school counselors, occupational and physical therapists, school nurses, school psychologists and speech-language pathologists — are starting their careers or have prior experience but are just new to CCSD.
Unlike in years past, there was no large in-person onboarding event. Schools used their own format for Wednesday’s orientation — in-person, via video conferencing or some combination of both.
Maria Allen, a first-year teacher at Tate Elementary School in Las Vegas, said Wednesday about preparing for the upcoming school year: “It’s definitely scary. I feel like there’s this huge mountain of things we have to do, consider and learn.”
She said there are a lot of unknowns, but “the district is really doing its best to help us out and make it work for us.”
The school district didn’t respond to a request for comment from the Review-Journal by Tuesday afternoon about new teacher orientation.
At Tate Elementary, three of four new teachers came to campus Wednesday to pick up keys and see their classrooms, Principal Sarah Popek said. And all four participated in a virtual orientation, either from home or their classroom.
There were technical difficulties with a Google Meet link, so teachers were panicking about being late for their first meeting, Popek said.
During orientation, “I’m seeing there is definitely a learning curve with us figuring out the technology,” Allen said.
Across the district, new teachers and school counselors are required to complete online training modules within 20 days of their start date, according to the district’s website. There are also virtual support, onboarding and training sessions, depending on the job.
First-year teachers prepare
All four new teachers at Tate Elementary completed their student teaching virtually, so they already have experience with that format, Popek said, adding that that was a desirable qualification.
Allen, who will teach second grade, previously worked as a teaching assistant and tutor at public schools in Arizona before moving to the Las Vegas Valley last year. She earned her teaching certificate through Nevada Teacher Corps.
Allen said she has a pre-existing medical condition that “makes the virus very scary for me,” so she’s primarily working from home. She said her school principal is “super understanding” and helpful. “I’m very grateful for that,” Allen said.
Lee Barnes, another first-year teacher at Tate Elementary, said Wednesday that he also completed the Nevada Teacher Corps program and was previously a high school coach in New Jersey. On Wednesday, he met his school principal for the first time in-person and moved around furniture in his classroom.
Barnes said he plans to teach from his classroom every day, even though students will be tuning in remotely. “That way I can feel like I’m going to work,” he said.
Being a new teacher isn’t so bad right now, Barnes said, because virtual teaching is essentially new for everybody. And he said you can still develop a bond with students, even if you haven’t met them in-person.
How schools are handling teacher orientation
At Desert Pines High School in Las Vegas, 15 newcomers participated in Wednesday’s orientation — seven in-person and eight virtually.
“Everything we have planned through August 21st, will allow our teachers to participate in-person, from their classrooms, or from home,” school principal Isaac Stein wrote in a Wednesday email to the Review-Journal. “I am fortunate to work amongst an amazing group of individuals that designed and executed our opening day orientation as seamlessly as if it were any other year.”
Spring Valley High School in Las Vegas has three new teachers, one new counselor and one new site-based technician.
They had the option of coming to campus in-person Wednesday if they wanted to pick up their key or see their classroom, school principal Tam Larnerd said in a Wednesday email to the Review-Journal. “I also have a tradition of having a luncheon with the admin team and the new teachers.”
At Mojave High School in North Las Vegas, 13 teachers are participating in orientation sessions this week, Principal Gregory Cole said. The only in-person meeting was Wednesday.
The rest of the training for Mojave High’s new and returning teachers, including professional development in August, will be conducted virtually. Teachers, though, can choose to work from their classrooms.