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Columnist Sara Shallenberger calls LO educators the bright spot during the pandemic

I admit, I had low expectations this year. After a practically nonexistent fourth quarter last spring, I started online school a few weeks ago prepared for disinterested teachers, swarms of technological difficulties and dismal attendance. Luckily, I was pleasantly surprised. UPLOADED BY: ALVAREZ ZELLER, ASIA - Shallenberger, Lake Oswego Review

On the first day of school, I was struck by the enthusiasm of my teachers. They were facing classes full of kids who wondered "How is [this] going to be any fun?" and "Am I even going to learn anything?" … yet my teachers stayed optimistic. They were confident that this could work. I found this very annoying at first, especially during the first week when things weren't quite running smoothly. How could they be so happily ignorant of the glaring issues we faced? But as we've gotten into a routine, their optimism doesn't seem so far-fetched. Rather, I find it reassuring.

I'm also astonished by our district's use of technology. Teachers who couldn't even work the projector are suddenly hosting Zoom meetings, grading quizzes in real time on Jamboard and assigning short video presentations on FlipGrid. They are harnessing technology in original ways to break up the heavily scheduled day and create engaging assignments.

Above all, these tough times have shown the very best qualities of Lake Oswego educators. The things that principals, counselors and teachers have done for their students is truly inspiring. My choir teacher comes to school every day and sits at the piano to create a sense of normalcy. He even puts us in breakout rooms and gives us five minutes to talk to our friends, mimicking passing periods. Counselors walk seniors through college applications with video chats and emails. And when a new teacher and online classes resulted in Portland State's refusal to grant college credit to AP US History students, the administration got us those credits by bringing last year's teacher out of retirement. This selflessness is even more impressive when one remembers that teachers still deal with their own technological and family issues that arise when working at home.

While I have been stunned by the way our educators have dealt with this near-insurmountable task, I will not pretend that online school is perfect in every way. Now, students spend at least seven hours a day on screens — the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends only two. By the end of the day, I find myself faced with headaches and eye strain. Some teachers go technology-happy — they post assignments on several different platforms and integrate every online tool available to them into their lessons. This makes finding and completing assignments confusing. The least stressful classes are the ones taught by teachers who invest their time and energy into using just one or two platforms really well. There is also little accountability. I myself find it hard to take school seriously when there are no incentives to do so.

Luckily, these are minor setbacks compared to the disaster I envisioned before starting school this year. Our administration and teachers have stepped up in more ways than I could imagine. I feel truly lucky to live in a district that cares so much for its students. During this challenging time, their commitment inspires me to step up and take responsibility for my education. The coronavirus has forced us to confront our failings as a society, but when I look at the work of our teachers and administrators, I realize the virus has also revealed remarkable successes.


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