Remote learning has been a challenge to navigate for all students, teachers and administrators. But for two first-year teachers at Washougal High School, the challenge comes as they begin their careers in education.

Jered Barker, WHS 9th and 10th Grade Algebra/Geometry teacher said his biggest challenge has been to build a relationship with students. “Relationships are the key to any successful classroom and in the virtual world it has become increasingly difficult,” he said “Students rarely have their cameras on, so I don’t even know what some of my students look like outside of one picture in their Skyward account. I love building relationships with my students so I have done the best I can with what they will give me.”

Elise Piet, WHS 9th Grade English and 10th Grade World History agrees.  “It is difficult to get to know my students and their needs,” she said. “I have to help my Freshman navigate high school and the demands of it, without them ever having set foot in the building.”

Both Barker and Piet use conversation starters in their Zoom classrooms to help develop connections. “I spend time every class talking with the students about their interests, things that have happened to them,” explained Piet. “The time I spend getting to know the students has paid off ten-fold as they are more likely to come to class, engage, and feel valued in my classroom.”

Barker starts his class with a silly question that has nothing to do with academics. “The goal is to get the students talking to me and to each other,” he said. “This has built a sense of community in our classroom. I get to learn what they like and dislike and interesting facts about each student.”

Barker came prepared for the distance teaching having attended Western Governors University, which is a completely online University. “All my classes were taught using a webcam with a teacher sometimes I never even saw,” he said. “All the work was left up to me to complete at my own leisure, so I know how the students are feeling because this type of learning involves a lot of self-motivation to get work done.”

Piet attended Washington State University Vancouver, and her program focused a great deal on restorative practices.  “That relationship building aspect has helped me navigate classroom management and community and culture,” she explained.  “I also took a Technology in the Classroom course that has helped me navigate online learning, so I am able to better help my students when they have questions with tech.”

“For both of these educators; the first year of teaching is a scary and tumultuous time,” said Sheree Clark, WHS Principal. “The fact that they were not only willing but excited to start their first year of teaching during a pandemic, speaks to their dedication as educators.”

Clark has heard feedback from both parents and students that Piet’s class is engaging and the students feel truly cared for. “Elise also has a way of making history come alive and connect it to current world issues,” said Clark.

“And Jered brings with him an energy that engages students yet challenges their math thinking skills,” Clark added. “He has taken bold technical steps by using multiple platforms to help students engage during remote learning.  We are delighted Jared and Elise are both Panthers!”

When asked for an example of an unexpected positive from remote learning, Piet said she feels students are much kinder to not only their peers, but to themselves. “They have really stepped up to the plate and are trying to help each other get through this,” she said. “Not just in my classroom, but district-wide students are volunteering, helping out, sending virtual hugs, and checking in with each other.”

An unexpected positive for Barker has been having more time at home with his newborn daughter.  “It has been a blessing to get to work from home and see my daughter all day and help my wife out by changing diapers in between lessons,” he said.

“It has not been easy or the first year that I expected but I am grateful to have a job and work with an amazing staff,” Barker admits. “I know going forward this will only make me a better teacher because I have learned new ways of teaching that I never would have thought of without the distance learning. I cannot wait to get into my classroom and see my students, some for the first time!”


Jered Barker