Editor’s note: This is part of a series featuring the six finalists for the Guam Department of Education Teacher of the Year Award.
Joyce Berry is an English and literature teacher at John F. Kennedy High School, and she has students in five Guam Department of Education Schools. That’s because she teaches with the Regional Online Program, which launched this school year.
Her hard work in the program resulted in her being named a finalist in the Guam Department of Education 2022-2023 Teacher of the Year Award.
“This has been the first time I was nominated and to make it to semifinals was shocking, to make it even further to finalist was even more shocking, … But I am truly blessed and I feel very happy to have accomplished this much already in such a short time of teaching, as people would consider this a short time.”
Berry has been teaching for eight years in middle school and high school. This school year, she teaches 11th grade.
Making the switch from in-person instruction to the regional online program was a challenge, at first, for Berry, but, surprisingly, there’s been more engagement with her students.
“I’m actually talking more to students than I did in person, which is odd because right now I’m available at all times. Students will chat with me, they’ll email me; we’ll be chatting during Zoom, and so I feel more connected rather than more separated in this situation, and a lot of my students, I did ask them how they feel about this program and they share the same sentiments with me,” Berry said.
She noticed that her online students are more comfortable getting involved in the class activities.
“In this model, the students are brave. When we’re behind a screen, we tend to be way braver than we are in person, we tend to say things and we tend to take comfort with where we’re at. That is a good reason why many of my students strive. (It) is because they are not afraid to talk to me, and they do use, like, the direct message feature during my classes and I feel that that also shows a great improvement, rather than being in the classroom setting,” Berry said.
While being behind the screen does have its limitations, gauging a student’s social and emotional growth and connecting with her students aren’t among them.
“Emotionally, I see how they’re writing to me when they’re doing their reflections and the way they’ve talked to me and the way they talk to one another because there are still conversations that are happening in the classroom. We play a lot of games in my class that engage them, I see how they interact with one another and I see the happiness and the reactions and they tell me exactly how they’re feeling,” Berry said.
She has also noted increased involvement from her online students’ parents.
“It’s actually funny because in my last two parent-teacher conferences I’ve had way more parents than I did in person because the means for communicating with them is a little bit simpler,” she said. The need to drive to school, sign up and wait in a physical line for parents to meet with their students’ teachers was no longer a hurdle for parents.
In the pandemic-era teaching environment, being able to adapt and adjust quickly is what matters the most, Berry said.
“If I win, it would be more important to my students, more than anything, to show that this type of learning is viable and that all of us can succeed in online learning and, hopefully, we can keep it as an option, because it does work,” she said.