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When These Kansas Teachers Are The Only Ones On Camera, Remote School Feels Lonely

Kimberly Dicus (left) and Jeremy Todd are Kansas teachers who've been teaching remotely since last spring, when Gov. Laura Kelly closed all schools to slow the spread of COVID-19.
Courtesy Kimberly Dicus
Jeremy Todd
Kimberly Dicus (left) and Jeremy Todd are Kansas teachers who've been teaching remotely since last spring, when Gov. Laura Kelly closed all schools to slow the spread of COVID-19.

It’s been a year since Gov. Laura Kelly closed every school in Kansas to slow the spread of coronavirus — and some educators have been teaching remotely ever since.

When Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly announced the closing of schools in March 2020, few people could have predicted how long it would last.

At the time, Education Commissioner Randy Watson said online classes would be merely "a bridge during these difficult times to bring us back when there is a sense of normal.”

A year later, many Kansas City-area teachers are still teaching remotely — but loneliness and fatigue have set in, both for students and educators.

Jeremy Todd teaches engineering at Sumner Academy of Arts and Sciences in the Kansas City, Kansas, Public Schools, which have been remote all year. Kimberly Dicus teaches math at Olathe North High School. Olathe students have largely been in school this year, but Dicus is teaching in the district's remote program.

These are their reflections on a year of teaching virtually.

JEREMY TODD: Sumner is a great school. We have great kids. We have kids who are engaged and who want to learn, but you know, they're still teenagers. They're still just like every other kid. Given something else to do besides go to school, they will probably choose that.

KIMBERLY DICUS: I think that a lot of times as teachers, we forgot that in high school our kids have seven classes. It's not just our class that they're having to manage. And so when my kids have to figure out their technology — I have a lot of kids who really don't have reliable internet at home — or things like that, (it) is just on top of everything.

JT: We did some remote engineering little projects and kind of activities that kids could do with stuff they had around the house. And I put together little material bags for them. It was ... a big transition for everybody, but I think even more so for STEM classes, hands-on stuff like that. Because you don't have access to the stuff we have at school that we spend lots of money on.

KD: I've been teaching for 17 years, but it's such a new format and a new platform that you get a lot more of those first-year feelings where I'll teach a lesson and I think it's going to go one way, and it just tanks and it goes terrible. And I have to completely reframe it before the next class. It just doesn't go the way that you want.

JT: I mean, there's some things, right, like we learn how to use a new software and kids kind of get frustrated with that. Because I'm not ... there to kind of help them or hold their hand and sit right next to them and talk to them and touch the mouse and do everything. At home, they don't have that. So I try to break it into different, you know, we're working on software for a couple of weeks, and then the next couple of weeks, maybe you switch gears just to do something else because I know that they get kind of overwhelmed. (I know the feeling) because I was a former math teacher. Last year was actually my first year teaching engineering. I'm learning all the software, just like they are.

KD: Honestly, for me, it's been a gift just to teach at home. I was really feeling burnt out with my career in general, and I also have a lot of people in my life that are high-risk. I was not feeling super amazing about being in the building.

Having a chance to be creative has really given me an opportunity to see that I do love teaching.I've loved being able to connect with my students. I have really been thankful that I've been able to build relationships with them, even over Zoom.

JT: I think in September it was kind of like, ‘OK, we can do this. Let's just kind of power through a couple of months and maybe get, you know, by the first of the year, or by November.’ Right? And then that date keeps getting pushed back farther and farther. Now most kids are kind of like, ‘OK, I’m done with this.’

KD: I was in a really unique position to know that I was going to be able to be remote long-term. I knew at the beginning I was remote at least for the semester. And then before terribly long, I knew that I was going to be remote all year. And so I was forced to say, ‘OK, what's going to be my solution? How am I going to actually make this work?’ I'm in this for the long haul. So are my kids,

JT: I've been ready to go back for awhile. The kids are ready to go back to their normal thing. Our kids are pretty much mics off, cameras off all the time.

KD: There are definitely times when I feel super alone when I'm teaching if I'm the only one with my camera turned on.

I don't know that I want to teach remote forever. I do miss seeing my kids.

JD: That's why you teach, right? You don't teach because I love math or because I love engineering. You teach because you enjoy helping students. You enjoy seeing that light click on or that spark of excitement — and virtually, you don't see that.

As Kansas City reflects on a year shaped by COVID-19, KCUR is looking back with people whose leadership played a crucial role in the beginning of what we know now as a once-in-a-lifetime crisis.

Elle Moxley covered education for KCUR.
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