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Teachers prepare for 'distance learning' for rest of year

A Metro area teacher says distance learning is not just hard on teachers, but also on students and their guardians. However, she understands its importance.

MINNEAPOLIS — Jen Heyer pulled out a mini tripod for her phone before she started to film herself standing next to four ponies. 

"Hey kindergartners!" she started. "It's Wilderness Wednesday today. We're going to spend some time talking about animal classifications."

Heyer, a Metro area kindergarten teacher who has won the Presidential Innovation Award for Environmental Educators from the Environmental Protection Agency, is used to taking classes out to unusual places. On Wednesdays, she's known to take her class outside to take lessons on what nature has to offer. 

During distance learning, it's no different. Except it's just Heyer, without her kindergarten students, in a location she found interesting near her neighborhood. On Thursday, ahead of next week's Wilderness Wednesday, she asked her neighbor for permission to feature his miniature ponies on his small farm.

"Teachers are finding amazing ways to make connections with their students," Heyer said. "No matter what you do, you can't replace the magic in the classroom through distance learning. That's the really, really hard part."

It's now week three of being away from her kiddos, and the end is nowhere in sight. With Minnesota Governor Tim Walz' decision to extend distance learning until the end of the school year, Heyer said her heart remains heavy.

RELATED: Walz says schools will stay closed, some business can reopen

Governor Walz, who is a former educator himself, called the decision "heartbreaking."

"I quite honestly don't know a single teacher that won't get emotional about it," Heyer said, tears welling up in her eyes. "It's very hard being away from our kids. They're the reasons we went into teaching. So it's hard to hear that news. At the same time, we totally understand."

The logical side of Heyer reminds her that social distancing is crucial during this time. However, her heart keeps bringing her back to the last day she saw her students.

"You know when we left that day at school, I was like, 'alright, scram! Get out of here, see you later!'" she said, wiping away tears. "I would give anything to have that day back and to be able to give them a true goodbye that was worth more than what they ended with." 

She explained that her husband told her it was probably easiest for everyone to have that sort of unknowing goodbye.

"He said, 'if you knew that that was going to be the kind of goodbye you'd have to give, how would you let go of them?'" she said. 

A teacher's love fuels the profession. Right now, Heyer said she's hoping the love would carry everybody through, until the next time they meet again.

"What can we do that our primary focus is that we love our kids?" Heyer said. "Education will come. They'll learn. We'll go back to school some day. But they need to know their teachers love them and care about them, and that needs to be our primary connection with them."

Heyer also didn't forget to thank the parents who have been integral to distance learning.

"We've asked parents to become teachers, and teacher's assistants," she said. She added that she too has two children who are also learning distantly, and that her husband plays a crucial role in their education, while she is busy responsible for the education of her students at school.

Heyer promised that when they are allowed to get together again, she would do something to make sure her kindergartners feel a sense of closure. She said she wanted to celebrate somehow the finishing of an important year for the children. She's just waiting for the right and safe time to do so.

MORE NEWS: Live updates: Schools will remain closed for the rest of the year, around 100,000 people could return to work

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