Teachers hopeful, optimistic as 2020-21 academic year opens with remote learning


First day of school is different, but excitement is still there

There were issues with students logging on to a school’s system.

Some teachers had troubles, too.

It is, after all, a brand new way to start a new school year.  

Teachers and students got a taste of remote learning last spring when the pandemic hit. But things are different now.

“We certainly worked out some kinks in the spring, to say it most mildly,” said Owen Frasier, a teacher at Fort Vancouver High School in the Vancouver School District. “Everybody wants this fall to go better.

Owen Frasier is a teacher and coach at Fort Vancouver High School. Photo courtesy of Owen Frasier
Owen Frasier is a teacher and coach at Fort Vancouver High School. Photo courtesy of Owen Frasier

Everybody — teachers, parents, community members, kids — nobody liked how the spring went. We want to show how important, how valuable public education is.

“A lot of people came into the fall saying, ‘I’m going to do everything I can to make sure this is everything we want it to be.’ A lot of people have a lot of pride in the profession that we have.”

This is certainly not to say things are perfect or close to perfect. There were reports from students all over Clark County having issues with internet connections or passwords. Frustration was common.

Still, the three teachers interviewed for this story on their perspective of how the first day went say there is reason for hope and there is a lot to be excited about for the 2020-21 school year. 

Margaret Milem, a sixth-grade math teacher at Covington Middle School in the Evergreen School District, said she still got the adrenaline rush of a normal first day of school.

Margaret Milem is a sixth-grade teacher at Covington Middle School. Photo courtesy of Margaret Milem
Margaret Milem is a sixth-grade teacher at Covington Middle School. Photo courtesy of Margaret Milem

A lot of that was due to the emphasis on attendance for the “live” online classes.

“In the spring, it was a choice. A lot of kids in the spring did the work but didn’t come to the actual class meetings,” Milem said. 

Evergreen Public Schools opened Tuesday. 

“I did get that ‘buzz’ because so many people showed up,” Milem said. “I still had the excitement of that first day. We had a little bit of a connection, and it went well.”

Speaking of connection, there was a considerable difference between attendance numbers from her first class to her final class on Tuesday. At Evergreen schools, students with Chromebooks have their passwords reset from fifth grade going into sixth grade. That is usually taken care of in person in the first week of a traditional school year.

This year? Nothing traditional about it. Milem said she and her colleagues did notice a number of students who weren’t “there” at the beginning of the day, but got their computers reset and showed up online as soon as they could.

Once connected, it was like a regular first day, with teachers trying to get to know their students. Milem asked a lot of questions: What do you like to do? What do you miss doing? What makes you feel respected? 

Milem chose to work from her classroom, via camera, to the students at home.

“For me, it’s just helpful,” she said of being on campus. “I’ve got a white board here, all my materials are here.”

Frasier, too, worked from Fort Vancouver’s campus. His wife is a teacher, too, and it would have been tough for both to be working from home. Even if that were not the case, Frasier would be at Fort.

“I love being on campus,” he said. “It lifts your spirits a bit. I walked our entire campus. It was good to see the people you work with again. That part of it, being on campus, was really uplifting to me.”

So, too, was seeing the number of students who were ready to learn.

Frasier said he had near-perfect attendance.

“In the spring, one of the things teachers struggled with the most, there weren’t a ton of kids in their classes,” Frasier said. “All of my colleagues said they had really good participation from their students. That’s what they’re most excited about from (Tuesday).” 

Evergreen and Vancouver schools opened Tuesday. Battle Ground Public Schools opened Wednesday. 

Heather Zimmer, a seventh-grade science teacher at Pleasant Valley Middle School, spoke to us during her lunch break after her first few classes Wednesday. She opted to teach from home via the camera. She has set up a background to resemble a classroom setting. 

Heather Zimmer is a seventh-grade science teacher at Pleasant Valley Middle School. Photo courtesy of Heather Zimmer
Heather Zimmer is a seventh-grade science teacher at Pleasant Valley Middle School. Photo courtesy of Heather Zimmer

She said she did not have the normal anticipation of a school year leading up to this day.

Then … 

“The minute I logged on and saw their faces, accepting them into the Zoom classroom, all the excitement started flooding back,” she said. “‘Look at their beautiful faces. Look at their smiles.’”

Not everyone was getting online at the same time, but those are issues that can be worked out soon enough.

“It’s more chaotic than it should be. It’s going to take a few days to get into a smooth transition. It’s going to take a little bit of practice,” Zimmer said.

But the signs are there for a productive season of remote learning.

“Kids are definitely nervous and anxious. At the same time, they’re listening to us, and that is so helpful,” she said.

Zimmer told her students that the feelings of happiness, of being nervous, of being scared, they are all going to help everyone stay motivated. She said by working together, they will be successful this school year.

“It makes them feel so relieved that their teachers understand,” Zimmer said.

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About The Author

Paul Valencia joins ClarkCountyToday.com after more than two decades of newspaper experience. He became the face of high school sports coverage in Clark County during his 17 years at The Columbian. Before moving to Vancouver, Paul worked at Oregon daily newspapers in Pendleton, Roseburg, and Salem. A graduate of David Douglas High School in Portland, Paul enlisted in the U.S. Army, serving three years as a soldier/journalist. He and his wife Jenny recently celebrated their 20th anniversary. They have a son who has a passion for karate and Minecraft. Paul’s hobbies include: Watching the Raiders play football, reading about the Raiders playing football, and waiting to watch and read about the Raiders playing football.

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