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Episode 36: A Teacher’s Story of Perseverance During the Pandemic

It is a sign of the times… educators working harder than ever to keep learning alive during the pandemic. In this episode of the Supercast, hear the inspiring story of an American Sign Language teacher who says her passion and perseverance for teaching has grown during these unprecedented times.


Audio Transcription

Superintendent:
Hello and welcome to the Supercast. I'm your host, Superintendent Anthony Godfrey. Today we hear the inspiring story of one Jordan School District educator, who says her passion for teaching has actually grown during these unprecedented times. Rae Boren is an American Sign lLanguage teacher at Copper Hills High School. And she was recently recognized as an Outstanding Educator of the Year for Jordan School District. We'll visit her ASL virtual classroom. But first let's hear from Rae Boren, someone whose enthusiasm for the job during distance learning is keeping students engaged and finding success. Right. Thanks for coming on the Supercast.

Rae:
Oh my goodness, Superintendent Godfrey. I'm honored to be here with you today. Thank you for having me on the podcast.

Superintendent:
Well, it's my pleasure to have you today. Rae is one of the teachers who was honored by the Jordan Education Foundation. We did that by Zoom meetings and she's one of our very few teachers of the year. And it's really exciting to get to talk with you. Our Zoom meeting was so fun. You had all kinds of fans on that zoom meeting, faculty members, students. They love you atCopper Hills. That's for sure.

Rae:
Well, I feel very blessed. I have surrounded myself with really good people. And I feel very blessed to be there. I've been there my entire duration that I've been teaching and it really is a home for me there. I have my own little corner, my own little home. And like I said, I'm surrounded by amazing Grizzlies there.

Superintendent:
Being surrounded by good people is the only way I survive. And it's the only way to fly. So tell us about your role at Copper Hills. How long have you taught here? You've taught here your whole career?

Rae:
Yes I have. This is my 20th year at Copper Hills High School. And I have done a few different positions over the years, but I have consistently been one of the American Sign Language teachers there. And I'm a part of the World Language Department there, and this year I actually took on a new role. I also have had the opportunity to mentor our new first-year teachers this year. And that has helped me grow immensely, as well to having the opportunity to work with our teachers coming right fresh out of college and into the teaching field. So that's been a new position for me this year.

Superintendent:
Wha have you learned working with our newest teachers?

Rae:
First off, they come in with such passion and with such desire. They're ready to just delve in. They're ready to make their impact, make a mark. And I love seeing their enthusiasm to be open to feedback. I think sometimes as we progress, we get a little bit more like I've got this down. And I love that our new teachers are just so open to feedback and open to collaborating. That helps me as an educator just to see their openness and that mindset, and being able to collaborate with people with different content areas. I think you could always come away with new strategies and it's been phenomenal working with them.

Superintendent:
That's exciting. You put off a lot of energy and passion yourself, and so I'm sure that you're a great match with all those new teachers. Tell me, what is it that makes you so passionate about teaching?

Rae:
I think I finally have narrowed it down that I love to see growth. It fulfills me in a way that a lot of other things don't, and so seeing growth in my students, seeing growth in my new teachers, seeing growth in myself because as an educator, you have the opportunity to continually grow and this pandemic has most assuredly provided that opportunity. And so I think it's that growth that just fuels me.

Superintendent:
You've really hit it on the head. It is so exciting when you see the growth in the people that you're working with and the students that you're teaching. And when you feel it in yourself, as you interact with the people around you, and I think that's a very good description of what makes teaching so great. Now you talked about how much more we're learning as a result of the pandemic and having the soft closure. I don't think there's much that is soft about it. It's been pretty hard and a lot of work I know the teachers have had to do. What have you learned through that and how are you adapting?

Rae:
It has been an incredible time for adaptation and creativity. I think my class was very interactive and they interact with the language and I'd observed them while they're interacting or I'm up there using the language and they're watching me. It was so, so, so interactive. And so to have to go to this online format and to creatively problem solve, how are we still going to be interactive until they develop language skills you have to interact. Right? And so I think creatively finding ways to have discussions in Canvas and to do the live tutoring. So it's just being creative with using Canvas, new technologies, using Screen-castify, figuring out how can I still connect with these kids. How can I help them feel like I am there? I know I'm not in the room with them, but I'm here.

And I think it's something that I really have tried to do, because I know that it has been a time of crisis for everybody in so many ways. It impacts everybody differently. And my high school kids, I know, I have some that are watching their siblings as their parents are both trying to work from home, trying to manage that. I can't imagine. I think that they are managing some heavy, heavy loads. And so I think my principal has said, please teachers, just keep assuming positive intent. Please show them the flexibility and accommodations that you would like shown to you. And so I think that's always a good measure for us, right?  How would I want to be treated in this situation?  We know our own story. We know our own, this is hard or this is my roadblock. But we don't always know everybody else's backstory and where they are. And so I think just that has been a big part of my going to online too. Just remembering, I don't know what their household looks like right now. I don't know what they're encountering, the roadblocks and the setbacks. Just trying to help them still feel that there is somebody who cares for them. I think it's been something that I've tried to do.

Superintendent:
Well, I have no doubt that your students know how much you care about them.  That much is obvious, right? And you state very well that what we need more than anything is just empathy and connection. We need to understand that everyone is having a different experience through this. And there's no way of really knowing that. And we're all going through the same thing, but we're all experiencing something different based on our circumstances. And I'm just really glad that our students have you to connect with.

Rae:
Oh, thank you Superintendent. And I can assure you, like I said, I know who I work with. And there are so many amazing educators out there that I know are doing their very best to find ways to connect and just still help these kids feel like there is more learning going on. I think that's important as well because we know when someone learns their confidence increases and it helps them with that resiliency piece too. They feel like I'm resilient, I'm getting through this, I'm learning. I just submitted a really great short story for ASL that's just going to help them feel like now I can move on to my math or now I can move on to my science and  we grow line upon line.

Superintendent:
I think you stated that very well. There's a momentum that comes from learning. You learn, you gain confidence. The next thing becomes easier to learn because you believe that you can learn it because you learn the last thing and it just keeps growing. That relationship you have with students builds because their confidence is connected to their experiences with you.

Rae:
Yes. I think you're right. I think we all do that as humans. We look back, we'll have, certain mile markers in our life where we look back and think, oh, I did this. I ran that marathon. I got through, whatever it is. And you can always go back to that and think that was so hard for me. But I know because of that, I can do those hard things. And so I think you're right. It builds for us and it helps us see, I can keep thriving. I can overcome.

Superintendent:
And you forget to look back and give ourselves credit for how far we've come. I'll bet your first year teachers, when they get to the spring, you will remember when you had trouble even doing this and look how far you've come. So true. One of the compliments that I heard about you is the low turnover rate now at Copper Hills, because you work with so many teachers so closely, they all want to stay. It doesn't surprise me.

Rae:
I cannot take credit for that. I mean,  there's so many good people that are very good.

Superintendent:
I know you're at the heart of that. And that's a wonderful thing. I love the way you describe a teacher learning right alongside with the students under these circumstances. And I don't think we can underestimate how powerful that is because it puts all of us in the mode of being a learner. And I think when we remember how to be a learner that makes us an even better teacher and even better educator and even better person, because we have more empathy for what people are trying to accomplish.

Rae:
Absolutely, 100%, right. When we're in that learning mode, I think we are more compassionate. And I think that through this pandemic, because we were all just put in this crisis moment together, I think I've noticed that people are just so appreciative of effort as well. Even my students, even though I might have put something in canvas not quite correctly, I'll have a student maybe shoot me a message and then we're able to work through it. And I just see such an appreciation for effort. And I think that has been maybe the bottom line through all of this is. Kids can see that. Hopefully we can see that.

Superintendent:
Even as we're required to stay apart, having to do that has brought us together and has brought greater focus to the work we do and strengthened relationships.

Rae:
Yes. And then when we get to see each other again, isn't there just so much more appreciation. We always go a summer without seeing some of our colleagues, but I don't know it has really renewed appreciation just for seeing people and to having that real interpersonal interaction. I think it's given us a renewed appreciation.

Superintendent:
Well said,. I think it'll be a long time before the appreciation wears off because we've just missed people so much. And by the time we get back in a classroom with kids, whenever that is, it'll be the longest time they have been out of the classroom since anyone started. So it's a long, dry spell to get through, but we're making it, like you said.

We're going to take a quick break. And when we come back, we'll hear from Rae Boren's American Sign Language students. How are they doing with distance learning, stay with us.

Break:
Do you want to know what's going on in Jordan School District, get updates on the latest information that could impact you and your child, or just find an uplifting story about the good things happening in schools throughout the district? Check out our website at jordandistrict.org or follow us on Facebook and Twitter. Let's connect at Jordan District.

Superintendent:
Now let's head inside Rae Boren's ASL classroom, and talk to some students.

Rae:
It's a privilege and honor to have you join our class today. It's mostly ASL one students. And then this morning I had a level three class and there were a couple that said they would join as well because they knew they could be part of a podcast, and it could be super fun. So there's a couple of level three kids here.

Superintendent:
So ASL one, do you have students from all three grades in that class? Sophomores, juniors and seniors?

Rae:
Yes. Predominantly though sophomores and juniors.

Superintendent:
As Ms. Boren has told you, I'm the Superintendent. I started in July and this is quite a first year for me. I have had a snow day and earthquake day and a school closure for a third of the year. So I'm really figuring things out. So you sophomores for whom this is your first year of high school, we're in the same boat. So I guess I would ask seniors first from ASL one or three. Are there any seniors? I'd love to hear from seniors about how you're feeling, the fact that one Friday was your last day of school and Monday you realized you weren't going back. How are you feeling? How are things going? How are you coping with that?

Student:
I was just kind of thinking about that earlier today. And it just honestly kind of makes me really sad about not ever being able to go back to high school and seniors are forced to grow up faster than we'd like to, because we thought we had a couple months left of school and of childhood, but who has this much attention? The Class of 2020 has all the attention on them. And I think that's kind of interesting because everyone feels so bad for us. I just think it's just really interesting.

Superintendent:
Thank you, Karen, who else has some thoughts about being a senior in this school closure?

Student:
For me, it didn't feel real until Governor Herbert said we weren't going back for the rest of the year. We'd been out for a week or two. It was weird that I had kind of had the hope that we were going back. But then when it happened, when Governor Herbert confirmed that we weren't going back, it hit like a ton of bricks. Like it's hard. I'm weird. I do really enjoy school. I like going and see my friends and teachers.

Superintendent:
What you described is how I felt too when the Governor announced that. It's not as if I didn't believe that was a distinct possibility and we hadn't been thinking about it. We had, but when he announced it, well, here we go. Things have changed. And what you said about it, going right out of childhood to adulthood, you miss that milestone that you got to look forward to.

Rae:
This class was live and we had about 50 plus kids on when the Governor made his announcement. Kara, I believe you were in here? You were only one here. Okay. You heard the announcement before I did, because I was facilitating the class. And she got on and shared that with our class. Like I said, it was a Wednesday, it was live here. And the chat thread that this Google Meet has that on the side bar. Oh my goodness. Just reading those comments was tugging at our heartstrings, seeing these kids, we were going through the emotions of it together because we were finding it out in the moment. Kara is actually here now who shared that with us. Tell us about that.

Student:
It was my dad who was listening to the Governor and his meeting. And he comes out and all my sisters were here at the table and I'm here in class. We're all enjoying ourselves. My dad comes out and he says, "You guys, aren't going back to school." And it was kind of weird to hear, I guess. And so I thought, well, I have the opportunity to tell these people, so let's just get this around now. Let's see how they feel about it. It was kinda weird to just hear it in that moment

Superintendent:
To be on a virtual class when that happened would have been particularly hard. Any other thoughts about what do you miss about school?

Student:
I think for me just to put it simply, it's the structure that it brought. I mean, I'd plan my days, my weeks, my life based around this, like the school schedule and what was going on. And so I think as soon as that was taken away, I kind of didn't know where to go from there. I mean, I feel like I'm all over the place. You never know what time it is, what day it is, but I think it all kind of just worked together. But really, as soon as it was taken away, I thought, okay, well I need to set a schedule because that whole structure was just gone. It was really quick to go away. But I think as time goes on, I've gotten more used to it.

Superintendent:
Yeah. You make a really good point about the time and the structure you get used to that routine and that rhythm. That's exactly right.

Student:
A place to be. I knew where I was going everyday. I know at the beginning of every day I'd go to miss Boren's room and just hang out and chill. I just really miss being with people and being used to talking to other people and seeing what's going to happen in their day, as well as mine.

Rae:
I miss that too. I really miss that.  Just seeing you guys and even having our casual, startup every day. Even though we've tried to do these online classes and we make videos for each other, it's some of those casual moments that we haven't had as frequently. I agree.

Superintendent:
That's a really good way of putting it. It's the moments. And I find that with meetings too. You know, normally there's the meeting after the meeting where you kind of linger after. Same thing with class, you know, you kind of have those chances to interact and make those connections and you don't don't get that chance.

I shared this analogy of my boys . We went hiking a couple of weeks ago and we saw a snake and as we see the snake, we could tell it was a harmless snake, right in front of our path. We're like, okay, it's harmless. We're just going to keep going. Well, then we go a little further on and there's a lady stopped on the trail because guess what she saw and heard sounded like a sprinkler, almost a rattlesnake. And we thought, Oh, we just saw a snake. Is it really a rattlesnake? And then sure enough, we looked and it's definitely a rattlesnake. And that tail is just like back off everybody, back off. And so we were just like, Whoa, okay, what are we gonna do? What are we gonna, okay, we're just going to wait it out a minute.

And there were other hikers that came up and they decided to turn around understandably, right. Everybody handled their journey individually and some opted to turn around. And I'm with two boys that are not going to hear of turning around. They were just like, no. And so we waited for a little while and the snake moved a little bit, and then we were able to get up. And some of our views that we saw were just stunning and amazing the view of these wild flowers, incredible that I wouldn't have had had if I hadn't pushed through that obstacle.

And so I've thought how it is kind of parallel to this COVID experience, how we have had some major roadblocks, major. You guys have pushed through some really hard stuff. You've pushed through trying to figure out your own structuring. You've pushed through trying to figure out, where's this online chat thing and how do I submit my Canvas videos and all of these things that you guys pushed through. You pushed through some major roadblocks. And so I hope now, like for me as a teacher, as I'm getting some of these final projects turned in, those are my views. Because you have persevered and you have found ways to continue to learn and continue to show growth. I think that's phenomenal. I can't say enough about how proud I am of you guys for persevering.

And I always have to keep one eye on the rattlesnake, but it's really important to remember the vistas. That's a great way of putting it. How do teachers like Ms. Boren help you stay connected to learning and feel connected with each other?

Student
She does discussion posts where we have to post a video of our assignment and then another classmate comments and everything. So we're still able to like see them and watch the video and like comment on their assignments and kind of have a little bit of interaction with them. And Ms. Boren is very good at spacing the assignments out so we're not too overwhelmed with everything, where some other teachers do that.

Superintendent:
I love that. So things are structured, but there's enough opportunity for you to express yourself and there's flexibility.

Student:
She is 24/7 willing to help you. And you just go at your own pace. And so that's been really nice.

Superintendent:
In a way, has there been some extra individual interaction that you haven't been able to have otherwise?

Student:
Certainly with like teachers and even with yourself, you've learned a lot of things about yourself and you've been able to talk to the teacher personally, without all the students around. And especially just with this class, I feel like it's a lot easier to have interaction because we're calling more and we're doing videos and it's easier to interact with just the teacher.

Superintendent:
I really miss being able to meet with students as well. So thank you everyone for all your tremendous efforts, you guys are doing such a great job. And Ms. Boren speaks very highly of you. I mean, accomplished, and boy it's been wonderful for me to be with you guys. Stay with us after the break. Rae Boren has some advice for parents whose patients may be wearing thin with all this added homework.

Break:
I'm Steven Hall, Director of Jordan Education Foundation. In today's challenging and uncertain times, it is more important than ever before to support one another. Here at the Jordan Education Foundation, we invite you to join us in making sure children are not going hungry. Your $10 donation to the Foundation will help us feed one student for a weekend. When food and meals may be very scarce for some, with food and hygiene supplies in the Principal's Pantries at Jordan School District being depleted and in higher demand than ever before. Every financial contribution made will help us to keep the pantries filled for students who would otherwise go without. The Jordan Education Foundation exists due to the generosity of people who care about kids. If you would like to donate to help children from going hungry, please visit JordanEducationFoundation.org, or contact the Foundation at (801) 567-8125. Thank you. Together, we can make a difference.

Superintendent:
Tell us Rae, tell us what advice you would give to parents for getting their students through what you described. Well, as just crisis learning, we're doing our best right. Things are happening, but it's a crisis. So what advice do you have for parents to help their kids get through it?

Rae:
Oh, I would say it's really important that \if their student is really struggling, that there's communication with the teacher as well, so that the teacher, anytime that we have more knowledge, it gives us more ability to understand. Okay, what do I need to do as an educator? How can I better accommodate this student?

Superintendent:
I want to go back to ASL. You talked about growth and the importance of growth and how rewarding that is. It must be a little bit different for ASL because it's not as if they've had that throughout their entire time in school, they probably start with you. For many of them, that's their first experience with it. So you get to see students start at zero and just take off from there.

Rae:
You just hit it on the head, Superintendent Godfrey. I have some kids there, three-year duration while at Copper Hills. And so can you imagine, like you said, they come in not knowing the alphabet. Not maybe knowing please, or thank you, or maybe, you know, maybe something prompted them to take the class, but really they come in with very little ability to communicate. And then when they leave, they can communicate, they can have full on thriving conversations. And how rewarding is that to be able to see that kind of growth in your kids from year to year and, you know, in two to three years time. That is something I have found that is just priceless. It's priceless.

Superintendent:
How exciting that kids get three years of your classes back to back? I'm sure that it's something they'll never forget and it's a skill they can take with them, their whole lives. And really you're about connection, the whole class is about connection. It's about being able to communicate with others and communicating with others that you may not be able to communicate with as easily otherwise, and learning the value of that connection. So that's exciting. I can't wait to come actually visit your class.

Rae:
Oh, I would love that. I would love that. But you're spot on. A world language class is all about connection. That is one of our standards. Culture connection, building that. You've got to have that interactive component in a class that you're learning a language. So it has been interactive and hopefully connections are more strong in that class as a result.

Superintendent:
I have no doubt. So tell me, as someone who works with new teachers, you're a passionate teacher yourself. What would you say to someone who's thinking about becoming a teacher?

Rae:
If they're thinking about it, I would say, get in a classroom. See if you can have an experience to guest, speak, to have that teaching moment, somehow experience it. I think once you get to help a student understand a concept, there's little like it. Like just to see some understanding click for a student. There is something that is so intrinsically rewarding that I would encourage them. I would say, I know it's the cheesy bumper sticker that says, "I teach, I touched lives". I know it's cheesy, but you know it's true. It's true. So I would say, what other fields are you going to make a more significant impact? I can't think of another one. It is a field where you can truly help kids have a better day. You have such a role that you can impact a student who comes into class, putting their head down on their desk. You can tell they've checked out before they've even started your lesson. And you can say, you know what, I'm going to get this kid engaged. And I am going to get them to smile today. And we're going to have some fun. And to be able to have that kind of role in a child's life. Yes, do I want them to come away with ASL and yes, do I want them to hopefully meet a deaf person and have a positive interaction and use it, like you said, throughout their life and be more patient when communicating with people? Yes. Wholeheartedly. Yes. But more importantly, I want all of my students to feel like they have a place, that they have a corner, that they have an adult who cares about them, that they have a home at Copper Hills, that this is a place where they can thrive and learn. And so, as an educator, you have that ability to help a person feel that they're at the right place at the right time. And it's powerful. It's influential. I would say you got to do it, do it, delve in.

Superintendent:
Great, great advice. Great advice. Ray Boren, it has been so nice talking with you. You are an incredible teacher, a wonderful person, and I'm so grateful we have you at Copper Hills and Jordan District.

Rae:
Thank you. II am so grateful to be in Jordan District. So grateful to be at Copper Hills, grateful to have you as our fearless leader, Superintendent.

Superintendent:
Thanks to everyone for joining us on another episode of the Supercast. Stay healthy out there. And remember, education is the most important thing you'll do today. We'll see out there.

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