Teaching Profession

Stories to Make You Smile: Teaching Through a Glass Door

By Madeline Will — April 03, 2020 2 min read
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It’s impossible to escape the daily torrent of grim news as coronavirus upends our home, school, and work lives. To help you cope with the chaos of school building closures, remote learning challenges, and deep fears about the health and safety of your students, co-workers, and loved ones, Education Week will bring you some moments of levity from the world of education. If you have a story you’d like to share: lmaxwell@educationweek.org.

For 6th graders, learning how to graph a function can be hard enough in school. But learning it over email? That’s tough.

Chris Waba, a math teacher in Madison, S.D., had put a lesson about the algebraic concept online, with a video of him teaching and PowerPoint presentations. Students could either log onto his morning Zoom meeting to ask questions or email him.

But for Rylee Anderson, 12, it was a difficult concept to grasp digitally.

“We were trying to communicate the best you can through email,” Waba said in an interview with Education Week. “Finally, she emailed me back and said, ‘You know, I just don’t understand this one.’ It was a division problem—over the course of 20 years of doing these assignments, the division ones always give the kids a hard time.”

Instead of sending yet another email, Waba grabbed his small, portable whiteboard and headed over to her house. (He happens to be neighbors with Rylee’s family.)

“Rylee didn’t expect me to show up,” he said. “I rang the doorball, and she said, “Mr. Waba!’ I said, ‘You stay inside. ... Let’s walk through [these problems] together.’”

She watched through a glass door as he went through the problems, and then “the teaching moment” happened, Waba said: “The smile gets on their face, and they say, ‘Oh, that’s what you do!’”

Later, Rylee sent him an email: “Mr. Waba, I think I got this graphing function down ... , give me a test.”

The switch to online learning has been overwhelming for students, Waba said, and this was a “simple act of kindness” for him to help ease the transition.

“You can kind of tell when kids are getting frustrated and getting ready to quit,” he said. “I just didn’t want her to get to the point where she’s going to shut down, because you never want that.”

Rylee’s father, Josh Anderson, tweeted out a picture of Waba teaching on the porch, and the tweet quickly gained thousands of likes and hundreds of retweets. Waba has since been featured on Good Morning America, CNN, People, and countless other news sites.

“If you’re going to get caught doing something, and you know it has the chance of going around the world in 24 hours, make sure it’s something kind,” Waba said. “That’s what this was all about: It was just about being kind.”

And it’s part of being a teacher, said Waba, who describes himself as a laid-back and “pretty quiet guy.”

“There are thousands and thousands of teachers who are doing the same thing every day,” he said. “Teachers are givers and caregivers, and they care about people, and that’s their nature. ... In this time that is new to all of us, you watch—there will be some great education taking place.”

Since then, he hasn’t gone to any more students’ doors, although “there have been kids who have emailed [saying], ‘Hey, I’m really struggling on this,’” he said. “I kind of get the feeling that they’re hoping I’ll be right over.”

Images via Josh Anderson

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.