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'I've missed them terribly': Treasure Valley teachers weigh in on the return to in-person learning this fall

Several Treasure Valley teachers spoke with KTVB about some of the challenges they expect to face when students return to the classroom.

BOISE, Idaho — Most Idaho teachers are ready for class to be in session, but there is still apprehension about the return to school. 

On Thursday, Gov. Brad Little (R - Idaho) announced plans to return students to in-person learning this fall. 

The state released a 30-page document detailing some guidelines but specific protocols on how to return to classrooms will be up to individual districts. 

MORE: Idaho to remain in Stage 4; Gov. Little calls on schools to reopen in the fall

KTVB spoke with several Treasure Valley teachers to get their perspective. Most said they are excited to go back and see their students face-to-face again. They also believe going back to the classroom benefits students' learning and mental health. 

"Nobody wants kids back more than their teachers," said Sonia Galaviz, a fifth grade teacher at Garfield Elementary. "I seriously would be in a full HAZMAT suit if it meant I got my kids back. I've missed them terribly."

However, there are concerns from teachers about how to balance learning with safety.

One of the biggest concerns is how physical distancing will be maintained. 

"Teaching elementary, I get those kindergartners that are five years old and keeping them away from each other is sometimes hard," said Erin Paradis, a music teacher at Desert Springs Elementary.

Teachers KTVB spoke with said they've looked at the possibility of maintaining six feet of distance in their classrooms. 

"I'm a high school teacher and I have tables," said Becky Mitchell, a high school teacher at Vision Charter School. "And so six feet apart is a person at each end of the table. In my classroom, that's not going to be more than 15 or 20 kids and my class sizes are more like 35 [kids]." 

Galaviz said that this is not feasible in her classroom either. 

"I went into my classroom and tried to space out, what would six feet look like? How many kids could I actually fit in my class? Well, four," Galaviz said. "I could fit four in my classroom."

RELATED: What will Idaho schools look like in the fall?

Mitchell said another concern from teachers is about whether face masks should be worn in the classroom. 

While teachers understand masks are necessary from a safety standpoint, there are concerns about the effect on learning. 

"I teach many students who are English language learners and part of acquiring a language is really looking at a person's mouth," Galaviz said. "In addition, my student teacher this fall is hearing-impaired, 100% deaf. So I will have ASL interpreters in my room as well and they need access to be able to see our mouths for communication." 

Paradis said this could also pose a challenge for music classes. 

"Performing ensembles, such as band and choir, that's going to be a lot harder to play a flute while you have a face mask on," Paradis said. 

Paradis added she is also concerned about cleanliness, like having enough time to sanitize equipment in between classes and having access to enough supplies to do so. 

Staffing and budget limitations also make the list of concerns.

"If a teacher has to be quarantined at home, does that mean that a substitute takes over or can they teach from home?" Mitchell said. "And then with budget cuts, how on earth do you afford all that knowing we're going into the fall with less money than we had last year?" 

RELATED: Idaho education board to request CARES Act funds to improve 'blended learning'

Another change that will be difficult teachers is the shift in how one-on-one learning is done. 

"I think it's the part that might be most painful for a teacher, is we never want to feel like we can't be right there with our students helping them one-on-one," Mitchell said. "But is that the safest place for them? And if it's virtually, how can I be one-on-one with that student like they might need me to be?"

Other concerns dealt with hybrid learning. Some teachers are worried about trying to balance those students in the classroom with those who choose to continue remote learning. 

There are also concerns about another shutdown and students having to once again pivot from in-person learning to virtual learning. That back-and-forth can be tough on the students as well, according to teachers KTVB spoke with. 

"The reality is we're having to work doubly, triply hard to make sure there's a protocol, a routine and a structure in place for safely reopening this fall," Galaviz said. 

While teachers still had questions and concerns about going back to school in the fall, every educator KTVB spoke with said they'd do whatever was necessary for their students. 

"All I want to do is be in the classroom with my kids," Galaviz said. "All I want is for them to be able to see Ms. G and know how much I love them."

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