Updated: May 19, 2020 01:32 PM
Created: May 18, 2020 10:40 PM
(ABC 6 News) - Teachers are working harder than ever and having more sleepless nights thinking about their students.
Do they have internet access? Are they surfing the web for hours? Are they reading everyday?
How do they know know students have food to eat or are safe if they can't get hold of them?
Three teachers in southeast Minnesota share the challenges they face from distance learning.
Albert Lea Area Schools awarded Paula Olson Teacher of the Year in April.
"I truly, truly didn't think that it would be me today," Paula said moments after receiving her award.
ABC 6 News followed up with Paula on her first day back in the classroom after weeks since distance learning began.
"It was just kind of dark and sad and lonely walking down the hall and yet at the same time, it felt very familiar and good," she said.
Paula has taught for 19 years but the past two months have been some of her toughest. She teaches for the district's Area Learning Center.
"Our students traditionally come from some pretty difficult circumstances," she said.
Those circumstances complicated by distance learning.
"They need to know we're here and we really truly care about them," Paula said.
But she's determined to help students get their diploma.
"I'm pleased with how so many students didn't completely give up their thought or their hope of graduation," Paula said.
Like Paula, Michael Olson hasn't been inside his classroom for weeks. He teaches fifth graders at Folwell Elementary School.
"It's been hard for me to sit at a computer all day long, even though I'm doing fun things with students, supporting them, giving them feedback... it's been a big change," Michael said.
A change he hopes won't compromise their learning.
"Our biggest fear is that we're going to start losing kids just because the novelty of it has worn off," Michael said.
Another challenge: tending to their families and their students at the same time.
"I want to be available to them as much as I can but I have two girls at home with me and six kids on the weekend so life is crazy," said Sarah Coffing, a fifth grade teacher at Folwell Elementary. "Just like every family in my classroom... I have to make it work with my family, too."
But teachers know their students are counting on them.
"Regardless, you know teachers are positive people and we're going to make the best out of every situation that we're in," Coffing said.
"I'm thankful to have this job. I'm thankful that it keeps me very busy. It helps pass the time and I know that I'm doing important work," Michael said.
Because their work could change someone's life.
"Doesn't matter how it happens. If it's distance learning or it's a traditional classroom, if we can help that student to graduation and get that diploma in their hand, then they have their future," Paula said.
Some teachers said they still haven't heard or seen certain students since March.
Their days are stretched making sure schedules can match families, keeping in mind they have families of their own.
But they've also found creative ways online to keep students engaged.
You will find deeper coverage of this story at www.postbulletin.com and in Tuesday's print edition of the Post Bulletin.
Tune in all week for our "School At Home" series on distance learning in partnership with the Post Bulletin.
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