First year Roaring Fork School District teachers speak to their growth after finishing a pandemic school year |

First year Roaring Fork School District teachers speak to their growth after finishing a pandemic school year

Sopris Elementary School kindergarten teacher Leah Berns does a fun frosting project with kids on the last day of school Thursday.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent

Rosalind Brokaw smiled as “Sunday Best” by Surfaces played over the loudspeaker at an empty Carbondale Middle School the day after classes were let out. She said now she has a reflex to look for her thermometer and get ready to check student temperatures whenever she hears the song play.

“Then they’d come in, they should have hand sanitizer by this point in the day. So, it definitely was a little checkpoint in the day and then the announcements came on right after that,” Brokaw said. “But it was actually kind of a nice regular thing because I taught from here when we were online too. So I would play it for them, I think everyone had a sense of familiarity (with it).”

It was Brokaw’s first year teaching at CMS and she said some of the challenges she faced off the bat were connecting to students and meeting them virtually for the first time. Middle schoolers don’t like turning on their cameras, Brokaw said, so she had to get creative with the ways she could engage them in lessons.

“I would try to make conversation with them, like greet them all by name when they signed on. … It was just like a lot of energy trying to put it right in the screen so they knew I was there, paying attention to them,” Brokaw said.

Roaring Fork High School Spanish teacher Savanna Pearson had her first year in the Roaring Fork School District after teaching for three years in Spain.

“I think I overestimated the Spanish abilities of Spanish 1 because of my nerves. I spoke to them 100% in Spanish my first class and then had to go back and apologize because obviously they’ve never spoken Spanish before,” Pearson said.

Pearson said she felt lucky in a way to have started off during a pandemic year, since she went in knowing there would be a lot of firsts for everyone. A goal of hers was to provide classroom work that was pushing native speakers she taught as well as students who were beginners with the language.

“Luckily from my experience I was able to bring in a lot of cultural aspects into the classroom and get the kids excited about other things. I was able to start an intercambio (language exchange program) with a school in Argentina late in the year because of COVID. … I think the biggest challenge was trying to make Spanish a balance of challenging and exciting,” Pearson said.

Fifth grade science teacher for CMS Sarah Strattan was also in her first year of teaching but said being able to survive throughout the pandemic year helped reassure her that teaching is what she wants to be doing with her life.

“I think it cemented my decision more than it would have otherwise. I think if we can survive a year like this, and we still want to teach and we still care about the kids, I feel like … everything else should be relatively easier,” Strattan said.

She said the effects of quarantine on students she said was fairly evident. Having a chaotic, unexpected schedule for the school year was reflected in their behavior. Once the year ended, she said she was also surprised at how many students expressed difficulties they overcame in the past year.

“At the end of this year, I kind of got feedback from students. More than I expected said that they had had a stressful year, a sad year, a weird year. And then we ended the year on a good note but a lot of them didn’t have a great school year it sounded like. … Learning wasn’t so much the top priority, it was more kind of just surviving,” Strattan said.

Being a first year teacher did have its advantages, Strattan said. She found she couldn’t plan more than a few days out at a time but that it was easier to adapt for her than in the case of some other teachers who may have been following a curriculum they’d been teaching from for years now.

“On the flip side I do think because I came into this year knowing it’d be hard, I think I had an easier year than maybe the teachers that have been teaching for 20 years. Maybe they’re not as familiar with chromebooks or technology. … Because they’ve been set in their ways for teaching for that many years,” Strattan said.

Pearson said the support and collaboration from other schools around the district made a huge difference on her experience and adaptability as the year went on.

“I think for students and teachers alike, this year was a really big call to growth. … It was really cool to see and talk to other teachers in the building who had epiphanies just like I did about teaching and students, and the connections we can make,” Pearson said.

Despite all the ups and downs from the year, Brokaw said her favorite moments were being in-person with the classroom and seeing them just be kids.

“It was nice to see them in a lot of ways be kids in their interactions with each other. You know, COVID or no COVID, they’re just still middle schoolers,” Brokaw said.


Reporter Jessica Peterson can be reached at 970-279-3462 or

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