ROSS TOWNSHIP (KDKA) – To say the past year has been a challenge for educators trying to help their students navigate the year of COVID would be a vast understatement.

“We did six weeks of virtual, and then moved into hybrid and back to six weeks again back to hybrid, so I think at this point we’re kind of adjusted to it,” says North Hills Middle School STEAM teacher Anthony Burns.

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Burns says that adjustment continues to change.

He still is teaching some students in the classroom and at the same time others online.

“It is definitely a challenge,” he says. “So just trying to keep kids engaged at home as you’re trying to you know service the students that are in the classroom is definitely difficult.”

Through it all, Burns has pushed ahead with his newly created STEAM classes, and this week he is in the running for the NHL’s Teacher of The Year.

“Definitely super excited,” he says.

The online voting wraps up on Friday, but Burns has little time to think about it, the classroom is a constant demand.

Burns says the good side of COVID teaching is the technological advances that have been forced by circumstances.

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“This has really forced us to dive into all the opportunities that are available to us and find ways to really make lessons interactive and really engage the students the best ways that we can,” Burns says.

That said, Burns says there is no doubt the overall amount of education has been impacted.

“It’ll definitely, definitely take a little bit of time to catch them back up,” he explains.

He adds teachers have been given some latitude to adjust teaching in favor of the basics.

“So those really big skills that are constantly spiraling through to the next year,” he says. “I think that we’re really focused on those and making sure that you know they have that really deep basic knowledge that they need.”

So while they’ve adapted and overcome the obstacles, that doesn’t mean Burns doesn’t miss having all the students in his classroom.

“That’s kind of heartbreaking,” he says. “I mean I love teaching just simply because you get to build those relationships with students, it’s so great to be able to get those aha moments where they’re acquiring that new content or making connections and some of that’s kind of missed and lost in translation.”

All indications are a partial online presence will continue into the fall and Burns says with the support of parents they can continue to make it work.

As for the kids in the classrooms who are continuing to wear masks and social distance, “Overall I think they’ve done really well with it and they’ve adjusted extremely well.”

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You can vote today through Friday on the NHL’s website by following this link!