Teacher in the Window (2021)
On March 16th, 2020, Chicago Public Schools halted in-person learning in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic. Thousands of students, parents, and teachers suddenly faced a new reality: online learning. For 5th-grade teacher Karen Van Zytveld, this meant engaging with her students while seated behind a laptop in her living room. For three months, Karen was challenged to adapt her lessons in creative ways, all while worrying about the health and safety of her students throughout the city.
Director: Henry Van Zytveld
Director of Photography: Henry Van Zytveld
Editor: Henry Van Zytveld
Colorist: Jake Myers
Music: Charles White
Featuring: Karen Van Zytveld
When we are younger kids in school, there is often a certain type of mystery that surrounds our teachers. For some it might be hard to imagine that their teacher leads a life outside of the classroom. Students are amazed when they see their teacher pushing a cart down their grocery store aisle. While that may be an exaggerated response that fades as a student progresses through the grades, I feel that there is a part of that mystery that persists even into one's adult years.
It seems that many people have little idea what goes on in a teacher’s life both inside and outside of the classroom. As the child of an elementary school teacher, I likely had a different perception of my teachers than my peers. Even with that familial connection, I still found that I was unaware of much of what went into being a teacher. It wasn’t until I was able to be physically present in the space where she taught that I was able to see a more complete picture.
In March of 2020, when I and millions of others were asked to shelter at home while the world attempted to get a grasp on the emerging Covid-19 pandemic, I suddenly had a front row seat to the daily life of a teacher. For my mom, this meant teaching her 5th graders from a laptop in our living room. For the first time in my life, I was able to observe my mom doing what she loves. While just observing a teacher may not be a unique experience, the circumstances made those particular observations an unprecedented experience.
Sensing the uniqueness of the experience, but lacking any formal plan, I picked up my camera and began to record my mother’s teaching lessons. Moments of her teaching would quickly transition to her commenting on her experience in the virtual classroom. As my mother was learning how to use a virtual classroom, I was learning what it meant to be a teacher in these times. After a few formal interviews and a visit to her school, my mom's school year came to a close and I turned off my camera.
Months later, Chicago city officials began to formulate plans that would see teachers return to the classroom for the first time since the pandemic began. Through the statements of officials and the subsequent press that they received, it became abundantly clear to me that many of those people did not have the opportunity to experience what I had experienced with my mom. Instead, they were quick to consider the instruction that students had online as almost useless. It was difficult to find any recognition for the hard work and quick adjustment that teachers made in those months and were continuing to make well into the new school year. Suddenly, the footage I had captured all those months ago became increasingly important.
After considerable time piecing together the images I had captured, I have a film that I believe tells a story that contrasts the one being told in many media accounts. While this film may only document one teacher’s experience from the perspective of her son, it is through this story of struggle, adaptation, and love that I hope some may ultimately consider the importance of teachers in our lives.