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Education in a global pandemic

by DEVIN WEEKS
Staff Writer | December 13, 2020 1:30 AM

REFER:

Teachers, we salute you/Editorial, A4

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A day in the life of a North Idaho educator in 2020 is vastly different from what it was in 2019.

It includes a deluge of communication on multiple platforms, hours that begin early in the morning and stretch into the night and, above all, an unpredictability that requires teachers to adapt, pivot and work at a brisk pace to stay a step ahead of the coronavirus.

“It’s made our work day a little more intense," said Abby Fremouw, Sorensen Magnet School of the Arts and Humanities second-grade teacher. "There’s definitely a lot more to it that we have to be thinking about."

Fremouw has been teaching for 16 years. This year, she's thankful to have student teacher Mary Vetsch by her side to help juggle the many factors of instruction during COVID.

"Every week’s a new story in teaching," Fremouw said Friday.

One big piece teachers are managing is instruction of students in quarantine and bringing them up to speed when they return. Many times, teachers will bring work to students' homes because the students aren't permitted in the school building when they're isolating.

"While they're on quarantine, we're expected to provide their week's work, so most of us are spending about an hour-and-a-half to two hours a week prior getting their learning log all prepped," she said. "It's overwhelming. There's just a lot of little pieces to figure out."

At Ramsey Magnet School of Science, fourth-grade teacher Steve Blee is living by and promoting these words this school year: flexibility, patience and positivity.

"Those have been the big three that have helped me get through it and parents get through it," he said. "We've had to be flexible with what our day-to-day will look like and what home expectations will look like, and they've changed a bit from the beginning of the year 'til now."

Overall, he said, it's been a positive year.

"Kids are very thankful to be back," he said. "Parents are thankful kids are back in school and interacting with teachers and students on a larger scale than the Zoom meetings and the Google meets we were having in the springtime."

At the elementary level, classes are cohorting so students are together all day — learning, eating lunch and playing at recess.

"That's why it is really essential we get along with each other," Blee said. "If there are peer conflicts that come up, we try to deal with it right away and end on positive notes."

With heightened anxiety and uncertainty disrupting lives this year, Blee has emphasized stress management and mindfulness with his students.

"Sometimes it's more of making sure my relationship with them is in a good place so they feel happy and try to ignore what else might be going on in their lives," he said.

From a distance learning perspective, Janey Ortega is one of five middle school teachers in the Post Falls School District who chose to teach solely online, "so my workday doesn’t resemble anything that would be considered 'normal' last year," she said.

Ortega teaches five online classes of seventh- and eighth-graders. She still teaches from her classroom in River City Middle School rather than from home, which she said has been a great benefit provided by her district. She still receives support from co-workers and continues to be involved in the school community by running the Associated Student Body and Sources of Strength programs.

Her workday consists of five hours of teaching live online lessons.

"I spend the rest of the day planning lessons, grading, talking to parents and students and completing my other responsibilities here at school," she said. "My co-workers who teach in person have to contend with additional cleaning and safety protocols, as well as trying to help kids maintain a safe distance from each other while still learning and collaborating."

What used to take her an hour to prepare takes much longer now because every aspect has to be recreated to be fully online.

"I want my students to feel like I am available for them if they need me, so I often find myself answering emails, grading, planning, and checking in with kids at night and on the weekends," she said.

She said the beginning of the year was the most stressful time in her career. But now that she has established connections and routines with her students, things are going much better.

She said it’s important that educators are "the calm in the storm" for parents and families.

"I want my students to feel welcome and cared about when they see me online," she said. "I make sure that I am excited and energetic for our online lessons and actively interact with them whenever they need me."

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DEVIN WEEKS/Press

Second grade teacher Abby Fremouw teaches her students about possessive nouns Friday at Sorensen Magnet School of the Arts and Humanities. Fremouw, in her 16th year of teaching, is encouraged by the resilience of her students in a year that has brought about never-ending changes and adjustments in the world of education.

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DEVIN WEEKS/Press

Student teacher Mary Vetsch assists second-grader Simon Drake with a writing assignment on Friday. Despite entering her teaching career amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Vetsch is encouraged, inspired and ready to take on the challenges that lie ahead.

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DEVIN WEEKS/Press

"Eat. Sleep. Teach. Repeat." Ramsey fourth grade teacher Steve Blee's mug summarizes what many educators are feeling as they navigate long days and lots of work through the COVID-19 pandemic. Blee is seen here on the way to his classroom Friday.