KEIZER, OR (KPTV) - This school year, amid a pandemic, FOX 12 has regularly gone inside Keizer Elementary to share the stories of teachers, staff and students firsthand, in a series called "Keizer Strong."
FOX 12 most recently spoke with teachers who have worked at the school for decades, to hear what this year has been like for them.
The shamrock plant in Diane Miller's classroom is much more than a decoration or space filler. It's something truly adding life to her fourth grade classroom.
“A little girl gave me it about a year ago, the week before we closed down the school," said Miller. “It kind of kept blooming this whole year and I brought it in because, I thought, I have a testament to surviving and coming back.”
Surviving is how many people would describe the past year.
“When you talk about changes, nothing in all those years, can even match to this last year," said Miller.
For the long-time teacher, who has worked at Keizer Elementary for more than 20 years, it meant changing everything she knows about teaching and caring for her kids.
“My strength, I think, is being in person with kids, so the technology part was challenging," she said.
Terry Tucker, a fourth grade teacher, who has worked for the district for more than 30 years and Keizer for 15, said the difficulties went beyond technology.
“The hardest part for this year, just getting our students to, I guess it’s a situation of step in and want to be encouraged or enthusiastic about their own learning," said Tucker. "It’s been tough for some of those kids.”
But does a tough year like this one, make these longtime teachers rethink if they should continue in education or retire early?
“I was considering retiring at the end of this year, but with the team I’m working with and with our principal, I think I’m going to go one more year," said Tucker. “I don’t want my career to end on distanced learning.”
With distanced learning slowly seeming to fade away, teachers and students are embracing the new normal.
“There’s an excitement that’s there," said Tucker. "We had a couple students be like, I don’t know if I would like to come back.”
“Our first week back as a group, they’re like, you know, I’m really liking this," continued Tucker.
“It was so much fun because they come in our side door, and just to greet them in the morning and to get to see some of my students from last year in the classroom next door, including the little girl that gave me the shamrock plant," said Miller.
"“It’s a little leggy, but you know, it’s still blooming," continued Miller.
Still blooming, just like an entire school, that's truly Keizer Strong.
"I feel like I’ve learned a lot and, you know," said Miller. "Whatever education looks like moving forward, I feel like I know a lot more than I did a year ago."
Teachers said some good did come out of virtual learning. Because of it, they feel like they got to know their kids and parents in a new way, seeing them at their homes every day.
They also said they couldn't have made it through the year without the supportive staff and community at Keizer.