CHANDLER, AZ — An online Chandler Unified School District teacher has gone above and beyond to keep her students engaged despite the challenges that come with virtual learning.
Heather Dearing is teaching 26 fourth-grade students at Chandler Online Academy.
"I'm just a very animated person, I'm very sarcastic with my students. I'm very over the top. I like to get them in and out of their seats quite a bit, moving around. We have brain breaks throughout the day when we have no screen for ten minutes in between certain things," said Dearing.
It's Dearing's first year teaching at COA. She moved to the Valley from South Dakota last year.
"It's been a roller coaster for sure, I actually took over this class from another teacher," she said.
She's made it her own. She said she prioritizes more live interactions, instruction and fun with themed days, indoor PE and extra office hours.
"We call her our home run," said Lisa Scheier, who has a daughter in her class.
Scheier said she's been amazed at how engaged the kids are.
"We wouldn't be able to survive the pandemic without Miss Dearing, it's just a fact," she said.
Because COA is online, Dearing decided she would create her own library for her students. She's got about 500 books.
"A lot of these students didn't have books at home, and they didn't want to go out to [the] public to go get books, so I asked my parents and asked if it was okay that I would sanitize my own books and bring them to them," she said.
Twice a week, she provides a basket full of options.
"It's mind-blowing that she carries them around, she goes to a central location on her own time, and she checks them out for the children and she cleans them. It's amazing," said Scheier.
Dearing said there's also the bonus of getting to see her kids in person.
"Some of them were like 'I just want to give you a hug right now' and I was like 'I know, but we can't.' That's been one of the most challenging parts--that social interaction. I crave it, they crave it, from their peers and their teachers."
Dearing said her favorite part has been developing relationships with her students.
"These kids keep me laughing all day long, they teach me new things every single day. Seeing their personalities and being someone they can look up to," she said.
Even though she misses being a classroom, Dearing hopes to continue teaching for Chandler Online Academy next year.