‘She’s been so phenomenal:’ Parent says teacher stepped up during distance learning

Kathleen Ann Chen brings warm, inviting environment into home

As families make plans to return to school, either by distance learning or in person, the lessons learned over the past few months will play an important part in how we move forward.

Second grade teacher Kathleen Ann Chen has learned it takes patience and compassion.

“Our children can succeed and they can soar in any type of environment. It’s just a matter of us and how we deliver things, the attitude we present to them,” Chen said from her home in Orlando.

Chen’s dinning room has been converted into a temporary office. Notebooks and school supplies are stacked around her.

“Oh, they’re already logged in,” says Chen, looking at her computer.

Moments later, a window pops up on the monitor, a dozen smiling faces stare back. Class is about to begin.

It’s been like this since March when Palm Lake Elementary and every other school in Central Florida returned virtually from spring break.

“It was scary. I cried,” said Chen, recalling the thought of not being able to return to her classroom that she lovingly decorated with positive affirmations and superhero characters.

Kerry Kearney says her son, Shane, was thriving in Chen’s class.

“You would walk into this room of just joy,” Kearney said. “She refers to all her students as super cute heroes. All the families are super families.”

Kearney said the thought of having to abandon the comforts of that classroom were tough to imagine.

“It’s heartbreaking to know the joy, the laughter, the relationships that are fostered within those walls don’t exist right now,” Kearney said.

But Kearney says Chen was able to turn her living room classroom into a super stand-in. Kearney nominated Chen for the News 6 Getting Results Award because of her energy and passion to keep the class fun, engaging and on schedule.

“She just dedicated all of her time. There wasn’t a second that she didn’t reply to a text or email. She would pick up the phone, she was always there for parents.”

Chen said it wasn’t easy. The school hadn’t yet transitioned to assigned tablets and laptops, so not every family was equally prepared. Chen quickly used the popular ClassDojo program that everyone was already comfortable with to create the structure for what the rest of the year would look like.

Chen created manuals and tutorials to walk parents through the technology and resources they would be using.

“All the students and parents were connected from the beginning,” Kearney said. “I think that was an advantage for her and for us.”

“It was like a substitute plan, where everything was detailed for them,” Chen laughed.

Chen said she would regularly work from early in the morning until late into the night planning the next day’s assignments.

“I think it speaks volumes about your character that you are so dedicated to the education, growth and opportunity for these second graders that you put yourself on the back burner,” Kearney said.

Kearney tells News 6 that regular one-on-one teacher-student sessions also kept everyone on task.

Chen said it worked. Students in her class are on grade level and thriving.

“She’s been so phenomenal that I really wanted to sing her praises. It’s the least I could do,” Kearney said.

“I wanted to make it special. I didn’t want my kids to feel like they got shorted out on an education and building second grade memories,” Chen said.

The learning has continued into the summer break. Chen has been meeting regularly with students to help them prepare for third grade.

“A lot of my friends and family ask me why I’m still doing it and I say, ’This wasn’t a normal year and I wanted to make sure my kids walk, turn on or log into third grade with confidence.‘”

About the Author:

Paul is a Florida native who graduated from the University of Central Florida. As a multimedia journalist, Paul enjoys profiling the people and places that make Central Florida unique.