By Susan Riddell
It’s not unusual for a student to read books to his or her teacher. It’s also not unusual for a student to sing songs or bring a photo from home to share with a teacher.
Andrea Meyer’s special education students at Lincoln Trail Elementary (Hardin County) spent a recent Wednesday morning doing these same things with her. The unusual thing was she wasn’t even in the United States at the time.
The students were Skyping with her while she serves active duty at Camp Arifjan in the southeastern part of Kuwait.
Meyer found out in September she was going to be spending a year in Kuwait. One of her first thoughts was of her students. It was going to be a difficult transition for many of them, especially since the school year had already begun.
“I couldn’t even begin to imagine how I was going to tell them, much less what I was going to tell them,” said Meyer, who serves as a lieutenant colonel in the United State Army Reserve. “It is harder for me because I have been with these kiddos since some of them were 7 years old. Some couldn’t speak very well; some didn’t eat; not one of them could read a single word, and now when you see them in the regular 5th-grade classroom with their peers, it’s hard to tell them apart.”
Meyer went to Fort Hood, Texas, in late September and started Skyping weekly with her students. She flew to Kuwait on Nov. 1 and will return to the U.S. in November 2012.
Her job in Kuwait is a Table of Distribution and Allowances (TDA) Master Planner. A TDA is a document prescribing the organizational structure, manpower and equipment for a non-combat, non-deployable organization.
Meyer Skypes with her students at least once a week. During a recent session with them before the winter break, two boys read books to her to show the progress each has made since she left. One student showed her a photo taken recently from a hunting trip, and two female students shared with her how they were going on a train ride in a few days.
One student was nervous about joining students around the computer while talking to Meyer. Before the 45-minute Skype session ended, however, he was helped to the computer. He sat down in front of the computer and sang “Frosty the Snowman” and “Jingle Bells” with Meyer.
Meyer said when the students interact and read to her, they are more focused than when she was in the classroom with them.
“I think they try harder when we are on Skype, and they want to please me more,” Meyer said. “They are actually learning to show the pictures after they read like I do with them when I read in a large group. They are more interested in reading aloud when done on the computer.”
Meyer also recently gave out words to the students for a spelling test on a Skype session. “They can put my face on the interactive white board, and I can call off the words by group,” she said.
Other lessons have crept into the Skype sessions. Meyer said an early conversation led to a discussion on the distance between Kentucky and Kuwait. The students talked to her while looking at a globe, and they were amazed at how far away they were from her.
“Another visit on Skype fielded questions about why it was my bedtime and they were having lunch,” Meyer said.
She routinely shows them photos of her living quarters and other military officers. One struck a nerve with some students. A photo of Meyer with another officer led students to believe she was making new friends and forgetting about her Kentucky friends.
It was a “startling moment,” Meyer said. “They thought that when people made friends that was it. No one else is allowed in the group. They were mad at me and upset for my instructional assistant and closest friend. So with that came a teaching moment about friendships, and it gave me an opportunity to explain to them that they will move on to middle school soon and develop new friendships, and it’s okay to do so. Now they like to meet the other soldiers and actually talk with them.”
Meyer anxiously awaits returning to Kentucky and to her classroom. She admits she regularly struggles with being so far away. She’s not afraid to let her students see her upset and hopes they can relate to her daily fears.
“The biggest thing for me is not letting them down.” She said. “They have come so far and worked so hard to overcome the fear of having a disability that it helps them to see I am struggling with my new role in life. It’s okay to struggle as long as you don’t quit and don’t let those struggles get you down for too long. I feel like they are living a part of their lives through me, and I want them to be proud.”
Most of her students are 5th graders, and when she returns home in November of 2012, they will be in middle school.
The thought of me not being there to see them off to middle school saddens me,” Meyer said. “I did promise them that when I return, no matter which middle school they end up at, I will find them and walk right in. They know I mean it.
“This experience has confirmed that the choice I made to become a special education teacher was the best thing in the world,” Meyer added. “I truly can’t imagine another profession. I love my job so much because I believe that everyone has the ability to learn, no matter what their IQ is.”
Andrea Meyer, firstname.lastname@example.org