SELFLESSLY RETURNING TO IN-PERSON LEARNING
Margaret Hespen has never loved noise so much.
In January, North Clackamas Christian School students came back to her Spanish and art classrooms after almost a year of remote learning, and their return reminded Hespen why she went into teaching.
“The banter as they entered — the chaotic enthusiasm, even the pencils forgotten on the floor — reminded me that I get to work with real people who each have the potential to change the world,” Hespen said. As she relished the renewed interaction, Hespen told her students that creation and communication are not just classroom skills; rather, they are essential for solving problems in the bigger world they are about to enter.
“I get to remind art students that the ultimate creator has given them the power to create, whether they think they are an artist or not,” she said. “And I remind Spanish students that the ultimate communicator has given them power to communicate with people who are different from them.”
Hespen is among the selfless teaching staff at the small Oregon City school who returned to in-person learning before COVID-19 vaccines were available to them to benefit their students’ intellectual, spiritual, social and emotional growth. NCCS reopened its doors while taking health precautions set by the Oregon Department of Education and the Oregon Health Authority like wearing masks and keeping students’ desks 6 feet apart.
Not seeing students face-to-face was the hardest thing about remote teaching, Hespen said. She is used to reading her students for the physical cues that alert her to how they’re feeling — that bouncy walk, that discouraged slouch, those new sneakers, that budding friendship.
“But online, we don’t always know who our audience is because we can’t see all of them on the screen,” Hespen said.
During virtual classes, Hespen started recognizing some students by their ceiling lights at home, having given up on getting them to aim their cameras down.
“And even for those that appear, something gets lost in translation,” she said. “We see faces, but we don’t ‘see.’ We do get to see a little of their home life … that crying baby, that poster on their wall, that messy closet, and sometimes, that ceiling light fixture.”
In the days before COVID-19, Hespen took high school students every other year to a school in Mexico to practice Spanish and help the students there practice English. As a teacher at a small school, Hespen has always had to be flexible, but her flexibility was tested last year with online learning.
“(Virtual learning) has been very hard for students as well, not seeing friends, not getting that real-time feedback from teachers, and not doing sports or music in a group,” she said. “And let’s not forget those parents who didn’t sign up to be teachers and who have to juggle their own work with helping their kids.”
Hespen was nominated as an Amazing Educator by a Pamplin Media Group reader who wished to remain anonymous. In the nomination, it was noted that Hespen facilitates the Honor Society at the school, has a great relationship with students and does an excellent job communicating with parents.
“Like many, she stays late or comes in early if necessary to get the job done,” the nomination read. “The parents, students and staff all use her as a resource. She loves to teach and her commitment to the students is very evident.”
Hespen said she was honored that someone took the time to nominate her as an Amazing Educator, but added that she wants to nominate everyone who is figuring out how to work, or even just survive, amid the obstacles of COVID-19.
She especially wanted to thank the following: teachers in public and private schools who are working more than ever before to deliver the same product in a different way; parents who make sure their kids show up for remote learning and do their virtual homework; kids who turn their cameras on, unmute and contribute to class discussions; the tech people who teach teachers so that teachers could become tech people; and NCCS principal Sherri James, for leading the school with “wisdom, precaution and vision.”