Woodland Elementary teacher transforms bedroom into a remote classroom
Remote learning has been a challenge for everyone involved this year, especially in elementary school classrooms.
Students have to cope with not seeing their classmates, parents have had to adapt to their kids being home all day, and teachers have had to take the tools they've used to keep a classroom of young minds learning and make it work over the internet.
One of the first things Woodland Elementary East second-grade teacher Claudine Mardehow did to prepare for teaching her students online was turning her now-adult son's old bedroom into a classroom away from school.
"I said to him, 'now you understand you are not coming back?'" Mardehow joked. "It's amazing, in the morning I walk a few feet across the hall and I am in my classroom."
She transformed the room using supplies and wall hangings from her usual room at East, which is in Gages Lake, and also by taking advantage of a lifetime worth of being a self-avowed "garage sale junkie."
"I could set up a whole school almost," Mardehow said. "It makes the situation a lot easier than for most teachers, and it is something I am very fortunate to have."
Mardehow said her mantra for this year is "bloom where you are planted," a phrase she borrowed from St. Louis-based artist and illustrator Mary Engelbreit.
"I told my students I am the gardener. I make sure they are not choked by the weeds and I will make sure they will grow to be beautiful," Mardehow said.
Mardehow said it has taken time to adapt her lesson plan to the online reality. She said the lessons have to be as fun and engaging as possible while still being educational.
"A second-grader cannot sit through a lesson for 30 minutes without a break," Mardehow said.
A recent example was a phonics lesson, where Mardehow asked her students to get up and grab a toy in their house, bring it back to the computer, unmute themselves and pronounce the name of the toy for their classmates while Mardehow wrote what the students said on the board.
"I try to give them talk time as much as possible because most of the time they are muted, and that's not how second-graders are," Mardehow said.
Mardehow said when the school district shifted to remote learning in the spring, the transition was not all that hard because she and her students already had a routine, and the students' parents, who often would be nearby, knew Mardehow as well.
Mardehow immigrated from Jamaica, and so she always explains to her students on the first day that she sometimes pronounces words differently and that they shouldn't be shy about asking her to say something again.
She said while giving that talk on the first day of school this year she had the realization that she was giving it not only to the children, but to their parents as well.
She said she had to take a second and tell herself not to change the way she taught or spoke to the children because there might be adults present.
"I cannot think that I'm teaching adults," Mardehow said. "And, literally, the second week in and I've forgotten they are there. If I need to sing directions to the children, I will sing directions to them."
Mardehow said she really appreciates the parents being there to help guide the kids and keep them on task.
Lori Casey, superintendent of Woodland School District 50, said Mardehow has done an excellent job of forming relationships with her students and parents to create a sense of community, even while remote.
"She always goes above and beyond so every one of her students is successful academically, socially and emotionally," said Casey, who has worked with Mardehow for the past 16 years.
"She is always willing to be involved outside of the classroom for the betterment of the district in activities and committee work."
Lisa West, principal of Woodland Intermediate School, who used to supervise Mardehow, said Mardehow isn't the kind of person who brags about herself, but West said she was happy to brag for her.
"She is all about students, about academics, but also about their hearts," West said. "She makes sure to meet them where they are and takes them as far as they can go."
West said she was sure if you found adults who'd had Mardehow as a teacher when they were children they would say she was their favorite teacher.