For 24 years, Kelly Sander never had a challenge quite like the 2020-2021 school year. Her kids, who she was used to interacting and collaborating with, were no longer face-to-face. Many struggled with technology and she could only recognize them by the small icon they were represented by on the screen. But it was her role navigating kids through the virtual school atmosphere that earned her a nomination for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch Teacher of the Month.
Mrs. Sander spent much of last year staying late on Zoom calls and checking in on kids to make sure they haven’t fallen behind. “Building trust looked a lot different last year,” she said. “But they knew they could rely on me.” Less time was spent on teaching history so much as checking in with everyone to see how they were.
New school year, new experiences
Now kids are back in class and she looks forward to getting back to the experiential teaching style she loves. Some kids she taught last year are back in new social studies electives and she’s seeing their faces in-person for the first time.
She tries not to talk for long, so kids have more time to interpret the information, discuss and collaborate. “I want them to be doing the thinking, not me,” she said. She uses experiments to try to get the kids fired up about the lesson emotionally. The emotional attachment helps them retain the information much better than lectures or trying to memorize dates, she says.
Mrs. Sander teaches history and social studies electives to grades 10 to 12 at Affton High School. She likes to joke that what she actually teaches is “emotional regulation.”
“They’re still kids at this age. They still get giddy about stickers,” she said. “If I can help teach them to regulate their emotions, they will be better, more thoughtful humans.”
Being thoughtful is her ultimate goal for her students, beyond becoming better readers, writers and thinkers.
A time for thanks
She loves watching the progress students make from year-to-year. Even the differences from junior to senior year can be impactful. She says these students keep her young, too, on their path to adulthood by always making her laugh.
Mrs. Sander said she was “shocked” to be recognized, even going so far as to wonder if it was real. “Teachers go a long time between ‘atta boys sometimes,” she said. “It’s nice to be recognized.”