Above and Beyond the Classroom

by Tom Akers correspondent

Above and Beyond the Classroom: Teaching during a pandemic.

Chad Hamerlinck - Cambridge Second Grade

“I've learned that it's not the "stuff" that makes learning happen. It's being here with the kids”

Like the rest of us, wearing a mask has been one of the challenges for Cambridge Second Grade teacher Chad Hamerlinck, “Most days I don't even realize I have it on now. I will still be happy to see them go someday.”

Mr. Hamerlinck, or Mr. H as he has been called by his students for the past twenty five years, has taught in Cambridge his entire career including three years in fifth grade, six in sixth grade and the remaining sixteen teaching second grade. He has also been a volleyball coach and official at both the junior and senior high school levels.

Mr. H is a native of Orion, Illinois. He graduated from Western Illinois University with a degree in elementary education. Since then he has also earned a Master of Arts Degree in Teaching and Leadership from St. Xavier University.

In addition to learning to teach wearing a mask, the transition from a traditional classroom teacher to teaching remotely was a shock to him. “I had to get a lot of help from my friends to familiarize myself with Google Classroom.” Despite the challenges of technology, Mr. H has overcome them and both he and his class is the better for it, “I have grown a lot in my knowledge of teaching with technology. I'll admit...it scared me to death at first, but I have proven to myself I can do it.”

Overcoming the social distancing requirements in order to continue some of his and his students’ favorite activities and lessons has also been a challenge for the veteran teacher. “I miss doing hands-on centers with my small groups. We are doing the best we can to still make those special things happen, but in a different way.”

Mr. H misses his remote students and looks forward to the day his entire class is back together in person. “Ultimately I want them to know I am still me. I am still teaching their kids the best that I can. I am still making learning fun, meaningful, and exciting. I know there are still lots of smiles under those masks, and laughter and excitement are still abundant in my classroom. Their children are loved.”

Chad Hamerlinck’s wish for the rest of the school year? “I hope for continued progress toward "normalcy." I won't be sad when I can finally put the masks away for good, but they'll serve as a reminder that we are stronger than any virus. I look forward to a successful finish to the school year...just like any other year.”

Above and Beyond the Classroom: Teaching during a pandemic.

Renae Leander - Cambridge  

“Teaching and Coaching is my beating heart.”

Renae Leander is known by her students and players by the first initial of her maiden name Tubergen. Coach T has been in teaching for six years, five of them in Cambridge Jr/Sr High School She is the head coach for both the junior and senior high school softball teams and the junior varsity girls basketball coach.

Coach T is originally from Ionia, Michigan. She and her husband Eric have welcomed their first child into the world during the COVID-19 Pandemic, an event which has etched the pandemic into their hearts forever. “This pandemic is one I will surely never forget as my husband and I brought a beautiful son into this world right in the middle of the worst months. It is hard to remain positive some days when these days are talked about as being some of the worst, because behind the pandemic, we have had more time to see our child grow than we would have before. It has allowed me to be forced to slow down to capture the little moments.”

As a lifelong athlete and now multiple sport coach the pandemic has been a roller coaster for Coach T., “Making changes for basketball activities to maintain COVID guidelines was tedious but I got through it seeing how well my players acted in all scenarios.”

Leander is a front line worker as well serving the Cambridge Community as a volunteer on the Cambridge Fire Department and an EMT on the ambulance service. This however has come at a price, “There were countless times I had to be in isolation and seeing my students and new son remain healthy through it generally speaking has given me the power to continue forward through all of the bad.”

Her service on the front lines and the flexibility she acquired in that area of her life has carried over into her outlook in education. “Adaptability has become my middle name in the classroom. There are days where a lot of students show up and a lot of days where my remote kids did not show up.” She has learned to alter her lesson plans day by day as opposed to week by week. “I think it is important to maintain a level of responsibility to our students to keep the classroom close to what it was before the pandemic.”

Coach T is an optimist by nature but even the pandemic has tested her outlook on things, “I tend to adapt to change quite well but nothing, nothing prepares you for the minute by minute change that has occurred in education this year. I chose to take the good over the bad. If a student didn't attend class, I chose to be glad the other seats

were filled.” She has learned a lot from her students, lessons more adults need to learn as well, “We as adults can learn a lot from these kids. They, without a thought, were able to adapt to the most unique situations without complaint. They had to achieve a status of grit and mental toughness to get through the constant let downs of announcements that they were told weekly.”

However, it is her colleagues which have helped her the most to get through the pandemic. “The pandemic has pushed me professionally to constantly look to my colleagues for support. We are in this together and I truly feel as a whole, we have put our community and students first in our lives to achieve success and give these kids a smile through our mask everyday, when our students see us, we are at our best.

Avoiding a cliche, Renee Leander chuckled when she shared her wish for 2021,

“World peace. Seriously. At least within our means. There is enough bad in the world. I hope my son will see a world of selflessness and a world of hard work and tenacity. Also, SPORTS. This coach needs them to come back.”