In appreciation of Lincoln County's teachers


(Editor’s note: This is part three of a three-part series honoring teachers in Lincoln County.)

Since Gov. Kate Brown announced April 8 that 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 — 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.

Nichole Le Sage  teaches U.S. history, drama, early childhood education and Advancement Via Individual Determination at Taft 7-12.

What is your favorite thing about being a teacher?

Teaching at Taft 7-12, there are many things I wish I could change for our students, but since I can’t change the world, I take comfort helping prepare them to navigate the world around them to the best of their ability. My favorite part is when years after graduating they follow up and let me know how a skill I taught/shared with them made a real difference in their lives. We have a tradition at Taft 7-12 where graduating students receive a dollar that they give to someone special who has guided them along the way. Nothing beats the feeling of receiving that dollar or getting that communication years later and knowing you made an impact. 

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

That’s a tough one. I would say it’s a tie between we don’t have summers “off” and that I genuinely care for every single student I have. People have a misconception that teachers are relieved when it’s summer, winter or spring break, but really, most of us spend time worried about our vulnerable students and their needs. The rest of our time is devoted to planning the best curriculum for when students return. 

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

The best for me is always coming to school in the morning and having students waiting outside your classroom door ready to share their lives with me. Nothing beats the look on a student’s face as they burst into my room ready to share a success they have experienced.

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

The biggest challenge comes with getting all students engaged and understanding this is not  “homeschooling.” Homeschooling is a choice a family makes. This is emergency supplemental education, and everyone needs to give and receive some grace as we work through this together. 

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.

Really, for me, I think we are getting to know our students better in some ways. I am now invited into students’ homes as they share their pets, show off their room or learning space or have their sibling say “hi’’ on camera. We may be farther apart in distance, but in many ways we are closer to what makes our students unique. 

Rebecca Freel is a teacher on special assignment who has this year taught at Toledo Elementary, Crestview Heights, and Yaquina View.

What is your favorite thing about being a teacher?

My favorite thing about being a teacher is getting to make lifelong connections with students and their families. 

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

I wish people knew how amazing parents are and what a great job you all are doing. I could not do this without your continued support. 

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

I tried something new with a group of students at one of the schools I worked at. Students were expected to fill out a comparative reflection piece about work from the beginning of the year to the middle of the year for the same subject area. In the space for students to tell me what they liked most, a student wrote, “Mrs. Freel didn’t push me until I got it right. She pushed me until I couldn’t get it wrong.” That’s extremely powerful!

What has been the biggest challenge, so far, with distance learning?Connecting with families has a lot of barriers in our current situation of distance learning. I love that I am working in a place whose foundation with our community is built on relationships despite barriers.  

 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.

My own personal growth about learning just how much I can do has surprised me. I have also really enjoyed saying hello to some of my husband’s classes. He is the band director at Taft High School, and I love seeing how excited he is when his students have played their pieces well. 

Faith Forshee teaches fifth and sixth grade at Crestview Heights School. She’s been teaching for 10 years, all in Waldport.

What is your favorite thing about being a teacher?  

I always wanted to be a teacher, but I came to the profession later in life. I worked in international business and child welfare first. I just found myself missing the opportunity to make a direct impact on someone’s life. That is the thing I enjoy most about being a teacher. There are those children every year who I know need my attention and my nurturing. I can tell I am making a difference, just by caring about them and encouraging them to care about themselves and their education.

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

I spent most of my life as a non-teacher, and there are many things I didn’t know. I would love other people to realize that teaching keeps us up at night. We know the impact we have, and we carry a lot of worry and guilt when we don’t feel we’re doing enough. I would love others to realize that teachers are asked to constantly evolve, learn new skills, change and adapt. In my previous professions, I always felt secure and confident in what I did. I knew I did my job well. Now, as a teacher, I am always “starting over” and feeling like a beginner. At the same time, I would love others to know how students of all ages become our kids, each and every year. We carry them with us as “ours.” We celebrate their successes, we worry about their failures and we cheer (with tears) when they graduate. What a gift!

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

We adopted a reading curriculum this year that I am very excited about. Our Reach for Reading curriculum is developed with National Geographic. That means the work we do is immersed in incredible National Geographic readings, videos and photographs. It has allowed our reading/writing time to enrich our science and social studies learning. I loved seeing my large class (33) of sixth graders all engaged in discussions about meaningful topics like ancient civilizations, agriculture in a time of population explosions and how scientists are working to protect endangered animals. They come alive when they have good resources.

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

The biggest challenge has been my need to impact and nurture students. It is hard to do that when they are outside of your classroom. I spent the first weeks just getting students to check in on Google Classroom. I wanted them to be ready when we were ready to go live with lessons. You could see that it was enough for the kids. They were ready before we were ready. That was hard, just asking them to wait and be patient.

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.

There have been so many extraordinary experiences. I have had nearly all my students involved every week in some aspect of our learning. We’ve had show-and-tell that couldn’t be done in a classroom, where most students brought a pet, and we all asked questions. I’ve had open office hours where kids will come and just want to spend an hour with me talking. We don’t have that luxury in our daily school lives. I have assignments turned in everyday on Google Classroom, where I can respond within an hour, offering improvements or celebrations. I’ve had weekly meetings with my school’s gifted students, where we talk about the personal projects we’re passionate about, laugh while playing an American Revolutionary War quiz game and plan for what we want to do next. In a typical week at school, we have more inflexibility.  We’re busy people. Distance learning gives us a rare gift of thinking, “How can I make the most impact today with the little resources I have?” We get to be both flexible and creative, and that is always good.

Advertisement

More In Local News