Vashon teachers mourn loss of school year
By Hannah Spranger, Co-Content Editor
For most, it is easy to empathize with the students who are losing a semester of school, regardless of grade level. People remember their senior year — the once in a lifetime experiences they made at events like prom and graduation — and they remember the excitement they felt when they finished their first year of high school. However, what many cannot relate to is how teachers are feeling after the traditional school year was ended due to COVID-19.
At the beginning of online learning, physics teacher Susan Swan didn’t expect the lasting impact the virus would have.
“I was … like, ‘eh six weeks, it’s alright,’” Swan said. “One of the weeks was spring break. I was like, ‘yeah, if we fall behind five weeks, no problem. We’ll still come back in May and June and really get some work done.’”
Getting used to being off from in person school was no easy task.
“As a teacher, I was still working a couple hours a day finding resources, posting, and I was replying to every single student who [emailed],” Swan said. “It was more for my sanity; I had to get up and be productive. Otherwise, I’d kind of fall into a funk.”
Due to her interactive way of teaching, Swan struggled to translate her teaching to an online format.
“The biggest challenge for me was getting the resources at first because I don’t have online materials,” Swan said. “I was trying to get stuff that was already out there, and so then I was frustrated. I was like, ‘oh, my God, I’m spending hours and then it’s not exactly right.’”
When online learning first began, Aristi Gill — a multiage teacher at Chautauqua Elementary School — struggled with the loss of connection between her and her students.
“It’s been overwhelming and creative and a little bit sad,” Gill said. “You know, I like to sit on the rug in a circle with my guitar and sing songs with my students. And we do that every single day. And so the loss of community has been really impactful.”
For Gill, initial challenges were more focused around her students’ ability to connect with her online.
“Getting kids connected and especially our kids that are at a disadvantage already – no English in [their] house, no computer [was difficult]. … I’ve [also] got a few English speaking families that are struggling with technology. … It just, it’s too much,” Gill said. “That’s the biggest challenge.”
It didn’t take long after the initial break from school for Governor Jay Inslee to announce that Washington schools would remain closed for the year and online learning would be required rather than invitational. This has been a challenge for Vashon, a district that has concerns about equity accommodation.
“I have super high participation,” Swan said. “So that was good. I don’t know what’s going on with people’s lives though, so that’s really hard. You know, I don’t want to judge people for not doing work or lower quality of work, because who knows what’s going on?”
Gill has seen similar participation and enthusiasm levels with her students and their families.
“I think I’ve had a really amazing experience myself with my class,” she said. “I just have had a lot of families participating and having a lot of patience. I have families that are eating up every amount of work or every video I send.”
Although there have been successes, the end of the school year has brought incredible sadness to both students and teachers.
“The day that we found out [the year was canceled] was the hardest day for me [of] all the days,” Gill said. “In multiage, our third graders graduate, so I know it’s not like not getting to graduate as a senior, but it’s still a special thing for us. So, you know, we’re sad about that. We’re trying to come up with some special projects and ways to honor our third graders.”
Swan echoed those emotions.
“When they canceled the whole school year, I was heartbroken,” Swan said. “When I think about the joys of teaching, like, ‘why do I teach? What’s my big why?’, it’s really the relationships I have with the kids. Online, it’s just an electronic document. So you’re really stripping away the things that I enjoy. So the end of the year is not going to be joyful. … I’m holding my breath just to get through it.”