Fifth grade teacher Terri Conway teaches her students from her classroom at Rogers Elementary School, as she said she was more comfortable teaching from there than she would have been at home.

Fifth grade teacher Terri Conway teaches her students from her classroom at Rogers Elementary School, as she said she was more comfortable teaching from there than she would have been at home.

Photo by Deb Jacques

Berkley teachers adjust to new roles as online educators

By: Mike Koury | Woodward Talk | Published September 4, 2020


BERKLEY — The Berkley School District began its new school year where it left off its last: online.

Students and teachers in the Berkley School District returned to class Aug. 31, albeit in virtual form. The district announced in August that schooling will be primarily conducted online through at least Oct. 30.

After several days of online instruction, Jim Bowering, a fourth grade teacher at Norup International School, said the classes have gone “surprisingly better” than he expected.

Bowering said there still is a learning curve with his young students accessing the new learning management system that the students are using for class and schoolwork, Schoology. It’s situations like this one where teaching virtually has its downside.

“I’m still teaching kids how to log in to this account, and that’s where kind of the challenge comes, where I really want to reach through the screen and grab their keyboard (to help them),” he said.

Bowering said he’s currently focusing on his engagement with his students, which he knows will be a challenge, as he just can’t walk over to one of his students and bring them back to the conversation.

What he’s found so far is that the kids have been ready for interaction with a teacher and their classmates, so that has helped their concentration in class.

“I’m getting some good engagement from them,” he said. “That’s the thing I’ve been missing the most, and for all the nerves that I had in the weeks leading up to it, once I finally sat down with the kids and I saw them on the screen, I was immediately at ease. It was just so nice to see them and get to work with them.”

Terri Conway, a fifth grade teacher at Rogers Elementary School, said that teaching the kids online instead of in-person is something that teachers are going to learn as they go.

She also feels the vocabulary word of the year is “resilience,” which speaks to the idea of how this year isn’t going the way the students and teachers thought it would, but they all still have to keep going and move forward.

“I know me and some of my other co-workers were almost struck with this unexpected grief returning to school,” Conway said. “That idea of even just as a staff, it’s different. We social distance, we don’t have that physical in-person support, and that’s what everyone is going through. … Absolutely as teachers right now we’re grieving a lot of not being able to see kids in the hallway or see them in our classrooms or be super tight with our co-workers.”

Conway has been teaching the students from her classroom at Rogers as, for her, it helped provide a sense of being at school for her students to see a classroom in the background.

As Bowering has two young children at his home, Bowering has been teaching in his house so he can help his children when he has time.

AP Chemistry, AP Physics and organic chemistry teacher at Berkley High School Mark Meacham has been teaching in his classroom since the school year began. Considering the subject he teaches, Meacham decided that teaching from a classroom was easier for him, since he couldn’t bring his chemistry lab home.

With his class, Meacham said he typically splits his students into small groups to have their own discussions over a problem or challenge before bringing them back to the larger class.

“I can pop in and out of these small rooms and answer questions, and then I bring them back as a large class. For the most part, I think we’re doing the best we can here and I think developing relationships is gonna take some more time,” he said. “It’s hard for me to read the class when they’re not here. So that’s going to take some time.”

Meacham’s situation is a unique one to science teachers, as the students at home don’t have access to the lab equipment that they would have used if they had in-person instruction.

So Meacham gives his students a problem and they have to figure how to do the experiment. Those students then direct Meacham in what to do in his lab.

“If they were here, they’d have to think through that in their teams and actually go in the lab and do it, but this year, they still have to think through that with their teams, but then they tell me what to do and I’ll do it for them. … I’m their hands, but I’m not thinking for them,” he said.

“I’m really happy with how my students are engaging right now, and I think the district has done a great job making the decisions, thinking about the health of us and thinking about the mental health of all of us,” Meacham continued. “Considering the situation we’re in, I think we’re doing the best we possibly can.”