Teachers take on challenge of online instruction this year

Whether it’s their first or 30th year teaching, educators in the Bainbridge Island School District were embarking on the same new journey as school resumed this week.

With BISD schools moving purely online for at least the first nine weeks due to the COVID-19 pandemic, teachers have been putting plans together to deliver their full curriculum without being able to meet students in person.

It’s a brave new world even for the most veteran teachers.

“To be honest with you, I’m really looking forward to the challenge of remote teaching and remote learning and being able to connect in a different way,” said Scott Orness, a seventh-grade science teacher at Woodward Middle School.

The district has been working to implement what amounts to a virtual classroom. Teachers will have a homebase area where they can give students access to assignments, materials and general announcements. Teachers will also have an application to create prerecorded lessons through Screencastify and also hold live discussion and office hours through Zoom where questions can be answered and teachers can work with students in smaller groups. A content organizer will house teacher and students files to allow for collaborative projects.

“It has been a lot of people putting in a lot of time,” said Brad Lewis, AP statistics teacher at Bainbridge High School.

Orness, in his 22nd year teaching — 19th on Bainbridge Island — said one of the biggest challenges will be to learn the new methods and quickly figure out the best way to adapt them to his classroom. He said that one of his biggest strengths as a teacher is to connect with students and create an environment where they are eager to learn, and the key to success will be to recreate that remotely.

“There’s definitely new programs I’ve had to get used to,” Orness said, adding that he thought that district had done a great job of preparing him through professional development.

Orness said he will use his classroom as a studio where he can demonstrate lessons. He also plans to have video from places around the state that he can use as part of earth science and geology lessons. The hardest part will be replicating the collaborative atmosphere students are used to in the classroom.

“That’s going to be pretty difficult, and during the pandemic we’re not going to be able to provide those opportunities to mingle and socialize,” Orness said.

Woodward will have a 20-minute virtual session each morning before classes begin called “Wake Up, Woodward,” which will give staff time to get students ready for first period.

As a statistics teacher, Lewis said there will be no shortage of things to teach this year, with the ongoing pandemic and the upcoming November elections providing plenty of learning opportunities. He said he looks forward to getting back to teaching despite the hurdles of remote learning.

“I’m very happy that we get to engage our students again,” he said.

Lewis’s background is uniquely suited for the situation — he worked in the Peace Corps in his 20s and wound up teaching math in Africa. In a situation where he had few resources, he had to be creative in optimally getting his lessons across to students. Though he has plenty of material and support at BHS, he will similarly have to find new ways to reach students and make sure his personality comes through.

“I’m very optimistic,” Lewis said. “I think there is a beauty to teaching, and it can be very organic. What you do in the classroom goes beyond just what you’re trying to teach.”

And although the state of the pandemic has created a far less than ideal set of circumstances for education, Lewis said he’s fortunate to be teaching in Bainbridge Island.

“I’m still in a wonderful community, and I have a very supportive school district,” Lewis said. “The kids we have at Bainbridge are amazing, and they want to engage.”