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Virtual teaching from real classrooms: Portland-area teachers say it brings normalcy

Some Oregon school districts, public charter schools and private schools allow or require teachers to instruct virtually from their classrooms.

PORTLAND, Oregon — Although many Oregon kids aren't going to school in-person right now because of state COVID-19 restrictions, their teachers might be.

Several districts and schools allow - or even require - teachers to be in the classroom, teaching students virtually. And a lot of them prefer it that way.

Inside Gladys Munoz' classroom at Franciscan Montessori Earth School in Portland you can still sense joy. You just may not be able to see it in her students' faces.

Because students learn online four out of five days a week at the moment, Gladys chooses to bring the actual classroom to them.

"I feel more connected with what I am doing because everything is in the classroom," Munoz said. "It's just to make the children also feel like we're still doing school - even if it's distance learning."

One of her fifth grade students, Patrick McGowan, feels it really does help. He appreciates her use of materials and visual aids.

"I would rather her be in a place I'm familiar with. Because I would probably be distracted, like, 'What does the rest of her house look like?'" Patrick said.

Under guidance from the state's Ready Schools, Safe Learners 2020-2021 school year guidance, most teachers in the Portland area can only teach virtually. That decision, made by school districts or individual private schools, is based on a county's coronavirus case count and several other public health measures. 

RELATED: Oregon schools postpone first day of online school because of power outages, fire danger

But some districts, public charter schools and private schools allow or require teachers to instruct virtually from their classrooms. Oregon Department of Education says it's a local control decision, meaning each school district develops its own guidance on the matter.

Schools have COVID-19 safety protocols, requiring everyone get screened and sign in before entering the building.

"It's all about trying to make it as much like in-person school as possible," Roseway Heights Middle School teacher Kitty Holdren said.

Holdren teaches sixth grade math and prefers to use her classroom for distance learning; she has a whole set up equipped with multiple monitors, document camera, web camera, microphone and a laptop stacked on boxes.

Holdren instructs live all morning and later attends meetings and helps students one-on-one.

"It's a lot easier for me to get my work done here and kind of set up those home/work boundaries. I have two little kids at home," Holdren said. "I also prefer working on a desktop computer which is here."

Building relationships proves to be the hardest part, she says.

"It doesn't feel like real teaching. So I keep reminding them to come off mute and start talking to me so I feel like a real teacher again. It's sad."

In a time when life feels unfamiliar, physically being in school provides a sense of familiarity.

"It's nice to have a whiteboard, materials laid out properly, everything is set up to where we can adapt to what kids need, whether it's working with them in groups, small groups or one-on-one," Rockwood Preparatory Academy third grade teacher Dane Dykeman said.

Dykeman said his charter school requires teachers (barring those who are immunocompromised, pregnant or sick) to work from the school setting to help students and parents feel more comfortable.

Teachers go about their normal lessons for now, hopeful the joy in students' faces will light up their classrooms again soon.

"Nobody is getting all of their needs met this way. But we're all trying really really hard - kids and parents and teachers - to make the best of it," Holdren added.

    

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