SPECIAL REPORT: Teachers speak on becoming virtual teachers via Bay Link

Back to School

PANAMA CITY, Fla. (WMBB) — It’s been a couple of difficult years for Bay County teachers and students. First Hurricane Michael shutdown schools for two months in the fall of 2018…

Then earlier this year, the COVID-19 pandemic forced schools into distance learning for the last 3 months of the spring semester.

About 20% of local students elected to stay home this fall, enrolling in Bay Link. But, many teachers say they feel more prepared for the virtual classroom setting.

After several years of instability, teachers now have one universal platform called “Canvas” to teach Bay Link students.

“I think it probably helped prepare me as far as learning the technology, learning to and be able to find creative ways to communicate with them at a distance,” Crystal Bullock, a Bay High English Teacher said, “but really the platform is different, it’s much more structured, we had to learn canvas which was not something that we did last spring.”

“Definitely some of the differences between last spring with Bay Link now in the fall, is that it’s a lot more structured, it’s much more organized, we had time over the summer to put curriculums together,” said Bullock.

Nearly twenty thousand students are enrolled in the district. Twenty-one percent of them are strictly learning online.

“This is hybrid learning for a lot of collegiate levels, I think that our kids getting immersed in it and getting to know the ins out of it and having to self-advocate and are able to know but they have to wake up, they have to log on, they have to ask questions, I think that’s really helping prepare them to be better learners in the future,” Bay High English Teacher Megan Todd said.

“Well for the students, we were a lot more lenient last spring than we are now, we’re definitely requiring them to be online each day, we’re requiring them to keep up with their work, do everything on time.” said 8th Grade Math Teacher, Michelle Gainer.

Teachers say it’s been a learning process.

“I think it was definitely building a bicycle as you go kind of thing, we have had to really remind ourselves, I have to make sure I press record for them, have to make sure I log on every day, so my phone right now is filled with little alarms I set to remind myself ‘today is the day you record at this time or this time’,” Todd said.

Teachers say their versatility has been important in this process.

“Bay county teachers can do anything, we can change on a dime, we can change our instruction, change our curriculum,” said Bullock.

“When I first started teaching I had no idea I would become a virtual teacher,” said Bullock.

“It never occurred to me that I would become a virtual teacher, but I found that I can still use some of my creative strategies,” said Gainer.

It may not be what they are used to…

“I think the kids have been really committed to making it work, we have definitely had learning curves in both and I definitely feel like we’ve been kind of thrown into the deep end on both, not by anybody’s choice,” said Todd.

“It’s not something that we all love, it’s something that we understand and we know it’s what’s best for our students and for our fellow colleagues at this time,” said Gainer.

But some believe its here to stay..

“Now that we are using virtual tools in our classroom, I do feel that they are here to stay, and I hope that they are. They really allow us that opportunity to be more flexible,” said Bullock.

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