Educator Spotlight: Jen Saarinen
Math teacher in Rhode Island focuses on SEL during remote learning and always
This story is part of a weekly series that celebrates outstanding teachers in our Flipgrid community. Stories by Angela Tewalt.
It was just a nice afternoon at home the other day when Jennifer Saarinen ran into her neighbor’s grandchildren outside.
They were familiar faces. For the past eight years, she’s come to know those kids with a smile or a wave every time they visit Grandma and Grandpa. As a math teacher herself, of course Jennifer always asks the kids about school – how they’re doing, what they like, if they’re happy.
Jennifer is the kind of neighbor that just makes you feel better.
On this happenstance, however, she spoke to the grandkids more earnestly than ever before.
“ ‘Listen,’ I said, ‘I can already tell that you didn’t like distance learning last spring, but I assume it’s going to be even harder for you this fall to ask a new teacher for help,’ ” said Jennifer, who’s school district has begun a hybrid version of learning both at home and in the classroom. “And so I just told her, ‘Reach out to me, ok? I’ll try to help.’
“Even though I’ve never taught her as a student, she might not have an opportunity to get to know her teachers the same way she knows me, and I think having that comfort and guidance is what’s most important right now.”
She did the same thing with an eighth-grade student who reached out to her personally to express how much he was missing physical classroom engagement in remote learning. She wasn’t his teacher for all of his classes, but she coached him through his schedule nonetheless, encouraging him to suggest virtual team meetings, one-on-one video chats to ask questions or a phone call with the superintendent.
Jennifer assured him that, beyond the schoolwork, she was there to support him, to help him advocate for himself and to help talk through the wild emotional learning curve we’re all leaning into today.
“My rule is, I don’t always have the answers,” Jennifer says. “But I will figure out who to put you with so you can get more help than what your math teacher might be able to give you. I just think we need to find ways to be a little bit more flexible and check in with the kids. Now more than ever.”