Supporting her students is something Siegel School at Clark Avenue teacher Sarah Lindberg always went above and beyond for – but during the pandemic and with remote learning now underway, the English Language Learners (ELL) teacher found a whole new definition of what it was to be a teacher.
With World Teacher Day this week, teachers all across the District are reflecting and being thanked for the lengths they have gone to over the past seven months to support students in one of the most vulnerable communities in the state – whether that be with COVID-19 or any other type of struggle.
However, Lindberg was one of a handful of teachers last spring who not only logged on and taught remotely on the fly, but also plugged in to local non-profits to deliver food to their students who were in need of the basics.
For Lindberg, 27, she said she has struggled to explain it to people and to tell people it wasn’t out of a desire to “save” her students, but simply to support them.
“A lot of people from outside of Chelsea heard I was doing this and said how wonderful it was I was helping in that way,” said Lindberg. “I struggled with that. It was simply that they were my students and they needed something. It was the work I had to do at that point. I was supporting my students in a different way.”
For many in the public schools, Chelsea was hit so suddenly, going from a few days of closure to suddenly having the most highly infected COVID-19 population on the East Coast – according to numbers from Police Chief Brian Kyes. At the same time, the City suddenly had faced the economic blowback from the virus, as vulnerable workers lost jobs and secure hospitality and service jobs evaporated overnight. It all came together to create lines of residents who needed help, and Lindberg said she was fortunate to be able to take her teaching to the level of being a provider of the basics in a tough time.
At first, Lindberg said she assumed the closure would be a few days, then revised that to a few weeks. Suddenly, it was apparent they weren’t going back at all.
“I just wanted to know if my students were ok,” she said. “I would call them just to see how they were doing…For all of us, the most important thing was, and will be until this pandemic is over, is to make sure our students and families are as safe as possible.”
Lindberg said she was fortunate that her living situation was one that allowed her to be able to go out and make food deliveries, as she lived with no one that was high-risk, and she was practiced in being very careful. She soon began working with the Chelsea Collaborative, along with some other teachers from the district. She said they would pick up boxes and make the deliveries, a lot of times being able to see some of her students – brightening up her day and theirs as well.
“I signed up for a lot of the deliveries because I would be able to see some of the students at their homes,” she said. “It’s one thing to check in on the phone or on the applications we use, but it’s another thing to check in and see their faces and their 11-year-old bounciness and smiles despite everything.”
Above all, she said she learned how strong her students and all the students in the district are. With every delivery and every smiling face, she said she learned that Chelsea students are as strong as the community that supported them through the pandemic – and she was a just a conduit, a teacher providing support where it was needed, whether inside or outside the classroom.
“I think as a teacher you can’t teach the subject matter if a student’s basic needs aren’t met,” she said. “To see so many of my students being so strong and so supportive of their families and their siblings and waiting in line for all those hours really helped me to be exposed to the responsibility and maturity a lot of our students have that we may not see in school.”
She said nowadays she is navigating the world of fully remote learning, and re-imagining how she teaches every day. There are new lessons and new techniques for the remote world. However, it is the connections to students in Chelsea that has driven her new ideas about teaching – that it is a profession that doesn’t stop at the school doors.
“Especially in Chelsea, a lot of our teachers and their connections don’t stop at the school,” she said. “So many work with the Collaborative and other groups that advocate for our students and families. I like that. I don’t want our connections to these kids to stop at the doors of the school building.”