Local teachers go above and beyond to help students with remote learning

As a second-grade teacher, Jami Kiel has read countless books aloud to her students at Emerson Elementary School.

She loves to watch their smiles and hear their giggles when she gets to the funny parts.

Although they are physically unable to be in the classroom together right now, Kiel has not let the COVID-19 pandemic take away the joys of teaching.

[sc:text-divider text-divider-title=”Story continues below gallery” ]

And she’s making sure her students don’t lose their love of learning.

Kiel is one of many teachers who are finding new and creative ways to stay connected with students amid the coronavirus crisis.

With little time to prepare, teachers have had to reinvent what school looks like and are helping students and families navigate a new world of social distancing and remote learning.

This week marks national Teacher Appreciation Week.

Teachers go to great lengths for their students and are appreciated now more than ever for the work they do.

Kiel has used Google Meet, an online virtual meeting platform, to communicate with her students over the past six weeks.

“The students loved being able to see each other and chat with friends,” she said.

She continues to read books to her class through online videos she posts regularly and has surprised students on their birthdays with special porch gift drop-offs.

When she heard one of her students had received a new purple walker, she drove by the student’s house to check it out.

Teaching from home hasn’t been easy, but she and other teachers are making it work.

Rhiannon Castetter, a fourth-grade teacher at Seymour-Redding Elementary School, also uses Google Meet to go over students’ work with them, answer questions, share what’s going on in their lives and do new lessons together.

“It just depends on what I feel like the need is for that time,” Castetter said.

As a reward for working on iReady goals, she recently set up a virtual talent show for her students.

“I was so proud of all of them,” she said. “It helped me feel a little more connected to each one.”

The administrators at Redding have continued to put together morning announcement videos which students and teachers can watch, bringing everyone together for a few moments each day.

“That has helped me and our students feel some sort of normalcy during this crazy time,” she said.

Martha Bloch, a resource teacher at Immanuel Lutheran School, has a slightly different role than a classroom teacher, but it’s just as important to students’ success.

She works with those students who are struggling with remote learning.

“Each student is unique,” she said. “In a classroom, teachers are able to give extra attention to those who are struggling. While our teachers answer questions readily now, they can’t always see the look in the students’ eyes that says, ‘I don’t get this, and I’m scared to ask.’”

Bloch connects with students over the phone or through Google Meet or FaceTime.

“It is my job to tell them it is OK to go get a piece of paper and draw out the math translation on a graph or write the word so that they can divide it into syllables and sound it out,” she said. “The students are able to understand the material better when they have hands on experience.”

Even with remote learning, teachers are making sure students are getting the most out of it.

Bloch said many Immanuel teachers are providing hands-on experiments, activities and games for their students to do at home with their families.

“I think it has been an amazing time for many families,” she said. “They have grown closer and the parents have really invested their time and energy into the education of their students.”

But it’s also been a time of learning for teachers.

“I would say the biggest challenge is making sure students are still engaged and learning and I just worry about their well-being,” Kiel said. “I was sad our year was cut short, but with a little planning, I worked to help create different memories for students.”

Her class was able to complete a unit on butterflies, watching Kiel’s videos and pictures of how caterpillars turned into butterflies and writing about the changes.

There have been some advantages to remote learning as students have been able to work on their own schedule, she added.

COVID-19 has led to innovation in teaching that will change the landscape of education for years to come.

“I think everyone has grown during this unique circumstance,” Bloch said. “We have learned so much and have grown in our skills. I think our school will be a better and more productive school because we have had the challenge of learning a lot of technology in a very short amount of time.”

The key has been keeping all channels of communication open with parents and students.

“I have tried to be supportive and help in any way I can to make this easier for families,” Kiel said.

That support has not gone unnoticed as Kiel said she has been the recipient of various acts of kindness.

“I received the sweetest card in the mail and I had a sweet treat delivered to my porch,” she said. “I also have loved the messages from students each day.”

But it’s not the same as being in the classroom.

“I miss the hugs and just seeing their little faces,” Kiel said. “While Google Meet is a great way for us to interact, it just isn’t the same as seeing them in person.”

Castetter said some things just don’t translate over a computer screen.

“I miss all of their sweet personalities,” she said. “I miss making those little connections with them each day.”

She also worries more about students who may not have the resources or support they need at home.

“Each student brings so much to the classroom,” she said. “I’ve always known that, but it is very evident in their absence.”

This school year may almost be over, but Kiel is looking forward to getting back to the normal routine come August.

“I am looking forward to catching up with students and not taking for granted our time together,” she said.

Castetter said she has a new appreciation for teaching because of the pandemic.

“There are definitely things I will not take for granted, like that face to face time with them each day,” she said. “Hopefully, our new beginning next year will allow us closure for this year.”