Since the school year began less than two weeks ago, Bangor High School teacher Geoff Wingard has been spending less time in the school building, but more time working. Not only does he have to teach students both in person and online, he’s also had to take on new responsibilities in the school building.
Wingard, chair of the high school’s history department, begins his day as a hall monitor, ensuring students have masks on and are following social distancing.
He teaches his ninth-grade students remotely and a U.S. history class in person. Between study hall periods, Wingard wipes down about 48 desks within five minutes to prepare for the next class. At lunchtime, with the cafeteria closed to large groups, he eats in the classroom with students.
“There have been some significant increases in the workload of teachers,” he said. “Teachers are doing work that they’ve never had to do before.”
But they don’t harbor resentment for having to work harder, Wingard said, since they’re focused on offering students as close to a normal school experience as possible with restrictions in place meant to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
With a school year unlike any other underway, teachers find themselves putting in more hours as they adjust to teaching students both online and in person — sometimes simultaneously — and balancing their teaching responsibilities with home lives that have also grown more complicated due to their own children’s school schedules.
In Bangor, about 80 percent of students are attending school in person five days a week while some attend two days and learn remotely the rest and a few students are learning exclusively from home. In Brewer, almost all students are attending school two days a week and learning remotely the rest while a small number are learning entirely remotely.
Both Bangor and Brewer teachers’ classrooms look drastically different this year, with students spaced farther apart, masks required and rules in place to limit students’ movement. Additionally, they have to juggle students learning in person and those joining the classroom via video conference.
“We now have to accommodate two groups of students in the same classroom who are following the same curriculum but receiving instruction through two different modalities,” Wingard said. “We want to make them feel like they’re in school for a regular day as much as possible.”
Teaching two different student groups simultaneously — one online and the other in person — has been challenging, said Joanne Adair, a Brewer High School science teacher who has two groups of approximately 20 students attending classes in person on alternate days, along with a handful of students attending remotely at the same time.
“We want to make sure home learners that are streaming into our classroom don’t miss the dynamics of our classroom,” she said. “We don’t want to miss getting to know them just because they’re not physically in our classroom.”
Some Bangor teachers have opted to work remotely full-time due to child care responsibilities, including third-grade teacher Shannon Shaw, whose kids attend school in person two days a week in Hampden.
Although Shaw is a teacher at Abraham Lincoln School, this year she’s teaching about 22 third-graders from three elementary schools — Fruit Street School and Mary Snow School, along with Abraham Lincoln — who are learning remotely.
Shannon Shaw, a third-grade teacher at Bangor’s Abraham Lincoln School, talks about teaching remotely full time in her home workspace. Credit: Linda Coan O’Kresik | BDN
Shaw does 30 minutes of live classroom lessons every morning and afternoon, and assigns students learning activities for the rest of the school day.
“I could tell when we first signed on that they were all very nervous, and so was I,” she said on the second day of classes. “I’ve never been a fully remote teacher. It kind of brought me back to my first year of teaching and what that felt like.”
A week later, Shaw said she’s come to know her students remotely a lot better. Even though she’s working remotely, she’s experiencing the same increased workload that other teachers in school have been noticing.
“I’m spending hours every evening after my children have gone to bed poring over articles, blogs and Facebook groups geared toward supporting teachers who are teaching remotely,” she said.
Balancing home lives and teaching responsibilities is another challenge. Teachers were thrown into homeschooling their own children and teaching remotely when the coronavirus first shuttered schools in March. Over the summer, many came up with plans that work for their families.
Wingard has a son in eighth grade in Orono who attends school in person two days a week and learns from home on the other three days.
“My wife tries to go in a little late. I try to get home a little early to try to minimize the amount of time that he is home alone,” he said. “It’s not ideal, and I honestly don’t know what we would do if he was a fifth grader and not an eighth grader.”
Adair has elementary school-aged children who attend Brewer Community School two days a week and spend the other three days at a Bangor Region YMCA program. While it’s a big expense to send her kids to the Y, she said it’s essential so she can return to school full-time.
As school goes on, teachers continue to work on coming up with new ways to teach through different media, all with the uncertainty of not knowing if schools might have to go fully remote again if COVID-19 cases in the area increase.
“Aside from the many challenges this year and this mode of teaching present, I remain optimistic that it will be a year I will cherish,” Shaw said. “I still get to support the learning of students. It just looks different. It’s still my responsibility to find and bring the joy of teaching and learning everyday.”