In appreciation of Lincoln County teachers


May 4 through 8 is Teacher Appreciation Week, and though the county’s educators may be a less visible presence in their students’ lives in recent weeks, in many ways, they have never been called upon to do more, as 300 certified staff adapt during the pandemic-spurred school closure to instruct more than 5,000 kids from their homes.

Since Gov. Kate Brown announced April 8 students would not return to school buildings this academic year, teachers have had to tackle a feat in a matter of a few weeks that Lincoln County Superintendent Karen Gray said would typically be a year’s work for a district — translating their formerly hand-on heavy curriculum to a totally remote forum, incorporating online classrooms and assignments, as well as traditional pen-and-paper classwork delivered via bus routes.

They’re also working with other staff and volunteers to deliver meals on those routes to anyone under the age of 18 who wants them — about 3,000 boxes a day — while themselves adjusting and helping their families adjust to a “new normal” with no clear end in sight. Teachers are human, after all. All the while, staff has been finding creative ways to show their deep commitment and personal connection to their students — posting video messages and photo montages on social media and delivering signs to the front yards of seniors, who are missing much of the pomp and circumstance they worked 12 years to earn. 

To recognize those educators during their week of honor — and get a peek at their challenges and successes in this unusual time — the News-Times asked some LCSD teachers to answer our questions, and the response reveals the thoughtfulness and devotion we would hope for in their profession. We salute them.

(While this is the last day of Teacher Appreciation Week, the News-Times will include more teachers’ answers in two editions next week.)

Melissa Wiese teaches Advancement Via Individual Determination, character leadership, Spanish 1 and  International Baccalaureate Spanish to ninth through 12 grades at Newport High School.

What is your favorite thing about being a teacher?

My favorite thing about being a teacher is always the students. No matter how my days start, the energy that students give to the learning process makes me excited to be a teacher. Students have a great influence in helping me become better in the art of teaching. 

What do you wish non-teachers knew about your job?

There is so much about teaching that is beyond the content we are trying to teach. Every student brings a unique set of circumstances and learning needs to the classroom. Our investment in students does not just happen while they are in our classrooms, and we will care about them even after they are finished with our classes. 

What the best thing that happened this school year prior to the pandemic-related closure?

I have worked with a group of AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) students for four years, and they are in their final year of high school. This year we are seeing them apply for the colleges, trade programs and careers for which they have been preparing the past four years. I have had the privilege of sharing in all their college acceptance moments and scholarships, for which we have been dreaming about since they started high school. Two of them are headed into service in the military. Students are pursuing goals for themselves that are bigger than what they would have imagined four years ago. 

What has been the biggest challenge, so far, with distance learning?

The greatest challenge is that there are so many conversations and connections that are better addressed in person. Students are facing so many personal, family and societal challenges, and it is hard to figure out the priorities as I have the opportunity to influence them as their teacher. After a meeting with several teachers, one of the challenges we were given was to focus on the "joy of language."  I have made it my goal to tap into the activities that students can enjoy while they are stepping back into the learning environment. An even greater challenge is how to connect with those few students who cannot join the online classes due to scheduling, work and the lack of internet where they are living. 

Please tell us about an extraordinary experience with distance learning — not something that’s good just considering the circumstances, but a great experience of its own merit.

I find that there are students who are sometimes quieter in a class of 30, but in the online learning environment, they have an equal voice. They don't have to worry about the social aspects in the classroom or the hallways that are hard for them. A student who was struggling greatly before the pandemic has gotten a chance for a reset and is back to the way he was at the beginning of the year. Students who would not always greet each other in person now greet each other when they see their faces online. They no longer take their peers for granted.

A second experience, which is related to the "joy of language" mentioned above, is a lesson I had planned last week. I could not wait for the online learning sessions where we could share the academic content in an engaging, fun and unpredictable format. The result was lots of laughter and engagement with Spanish in an online experience. This online learning tool helped us all focus on learning. 

Prior to the pandemic, our leadership class had planned a Cub Unity Week. It was going to happen the week before spring vacation. Our very first class session was devoted to adapting these great ideas to connect with all the students online since we cannot demonstrate Cub Unity on campus. These students created daily challenges to reach out and encourage their peers at Newport High School through kindness, inclusion and respect. Cub Unity Week is happening April 27 through May.  They are using Instagram and social media to promote the daily challenges. 

Kristina Pico teaches 10th grade English at Taft High School. She’s been teaching for 26 years.

What is your favorite thing about being a teacher?

My favorite thing about being a teacher is the relationships that we get to build with our students. My students never cease to amaze me with their creativity, their sense of humor, their perceptiveness about the world, their kindness and their resilience. 

What do you wish non-teachers knew about your job?

I wish non-teachers knew just how much time, energy, money and effort teachers put into our students. We worry about them; we take time away from our own families to plan engaging lessons and evaluate student work outside of the workday; we give up our lunches to help kids; and we spend a lot of our money on supplies and materials for them. We don't stop working at 3 p.m. or in June.

What the best thing that happened this school year prior to the pandemic-related closure?

The best thing that happened this year is that we are finally one-to-one — every student at Taft 7-12 has his/her own Chromebook, and this has opened up a whole world of educational possibilities. Our students are better and better prepared for the demands of the 21st century workplace.

What has been the biggest challenge, so far, with distance learning?

The biggest challenge with distance learning is, of course, internet connectivity for students in their homes. However, I've been so encouraged to see the passionate efforts of teachers, classified staff and administration in preparing and delivering paper learning materials so that we can reach every student.

Please tell us about an extraordinary experience with distance learning — not something that’s good just considering the circumstances, but a great experience of its own merit.

Virtual class meetings have been a game changer. Even though it's a little awkward for students to try something so new, they've really done a great job. My Advanced World Literature class had a great discussion about figurative language in Hamlet the other day. Wow, these kids are the best!

Jody Becker teaches seventh- and eight-grade mathematics at Waldport Middle/High School.

What is your favorite thing about being a teacher?

My favorite thing about being a teacher is that I am able to help support students as they navigate mathematics. This can be a challenging subject for many students, and I love it when I can present mathematics in a way that they understand it. The moment when something clicks, and I see that little light come on, is the most rewarding part of being a teacher. 

What do you wish non-teachers knew about your job?

I would want non-teachers to understand that teaching is more than a job, it's a passion and a lifestyle. I know that I am always thinking of new ways to present information, or thinking about that student that just didn't understand the lesson today, and what I could do tomorrow that might help them get it. There is a ton of work that is invested in a single day of school outside of the classroom. 

What the best thing that happened this school year prior to the pandemic-related closure?

The best thing that happened this school year is that I have built great relationships with students, and I am able to support them, even through the pandemic-related closure. 

What has been the biggest challenge, so far, with distance learning?

The biggest challenge, so far, with distance learning is making sure that every student has access to an education. The students that don't have internet need paper copies of all the instructional material and assignments from each of their classes. The schools have done a great job of making sure those needs are met. 

Please tell us about an extraordinary experience with distance learning — not something that’s good just considering the circumstances, but a great experience of its own merit.

An extraordinary experience with distance learning is that students are still reaching out and maintaining those supportive relationships with each other. The school community continues to flourish even when they are not in the same classroom. They are sharing the learning experience through technology, and the camaraderie is exceptional.

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