116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Ask schoolteachers how the past year has gone, and you get myriad answers. The only constant: change.
For seventh-grade math teacher Denise Melchert, the year has been a challenge in many ways. But it's also taught her — and her students — a lot. And while the pandemic marks a crucial chapter in recent history, it's only part of the story.
Melchert teaches at Harding Middle School in northeast Cedar Rapids, and this year marks her 32nd year in the profession.
'No two days are ever the same, and every year brings new challenges and something that I learn to hone my craft, so it is never stagnant and boring,' she said.
In her decades on the job, she has reached several goals she set for herself along the way, including earning her master's degree and earning National Board Certification as a teacher.
Her drive to impact her students extends beyond just teaching math skills.
'Teachers are instructors by title, but certainly fill the role of parent, nurse, counselor, mediator, social worker and caregiver on a daily basis,' she said. 'It can be exhausting, but in the end, worth it for the kids.'
She's also developed strong friendships along the way.
'There are so many things that have happened over the years that make me smile. I am blessed to work with some amazing teachers,' she said.
'Six of the current seventh-grade staff are teachers I worked with at McKinley so we have been together for over 20 years. We have celebrated weddings and graduations. We have mourned the loss of parents and colleagues. These people are the story. They are the humor that gets me through a lot of challenges.'
The past pandemic year, in particular, has provided a lot of lessons for Melchert, her colleagues and their students.
Using technology like never before, teachers in the district are now teaching one group of students all day long, rather than having students rotate between rooms for different subjects.
'In our current system, all teachers are teaching from their classroom using Google Meet for one period each day. When I am the teacher during period five, I teach live to the kids in my room and open a Google Meet for the kids in the other classrooms.
'The teachers in the other rooms log on and join our Google Meet and broadcast it on their white board. Kids interact with me via their classroom teacher,' she said. 'If kids are at home due to illness, they join the class via Google Meet as well and can ask questions via the chat.
'There are positive and negative things that have come out of this year. I love getting to know a small group of kids and really building relationships with them. I have heard from several of my students they like not having lockers and passing time because there is less drama and likelihood of bullying and negative interactions with other kids. Those are all good things,' she said.
'However, as a teacher, this year has been more work than any other year of teaching. We have had to literally recreate the wheel … having to learn to use different programs, teaching methods and trying to meet the needs of kids who we don't ever see or interact with in real time is a challenge.'
The good news is that teachers have stepped up.
'I do feel that many have risen to the challenge and are doing everything possible to make the experience positive for kids,' Melchert said. 'I think the greatest impact has been on students' social and emotional needs.
'Young people need to interact with their peers. They need to have opportunities to communicate and learn to interact appropriately,' she said. 'While it is the natural instinct of educators to catch up or make up for lost time, our kids need us to listen and allow them to communicate with us and each other.'
However difficult the pandemic year has been, Melchert looks forward to brighter days.
'I hope that the experiences of the past year will lead to changes in how teaching is viewed as a profession,' she said. 'I have heard from a lot of people in the community that were thrown into being home-school parents that they didn't realize how hard it was to be a teacher.'
Melchert knows as well as anyone — there's always more to learn.