Profiles In Resilience: Finding New Ways to Connect
Denver biology teacher Leah shares how she built student-teacher connections in a virtual setting.
July 13, 2021
In what has been the hardest year in recent memory, Teach For America Colorado's teachers are showing up stronger than ever to support our state's most underserved students. We're telling their stories — see below for Leah's and take a look at more Profiles in Resilience.
High school science teacher Leah Ortega (Colorado ‘19) says that while virtual learning had its drawbacks, it also opened up more opportunities to connect more deeply one-on-one with her students.
“I used to think I was wonderful at listening,” Leah says. “I used to think I really heard the story. But [the COVID-19 pandemic] made me call myself out a lot of times, like Are you listening? Or are you making an assumption based on what you just recently heard?’ One of my big lessons is really listening to listen and to hear their story.”
One of the biggest challenges of teaching high school students remotely during the pandemic, Leah says, is that most students had their video turned off during class. And though these online learning policies ensure privacy and flexibility for students, it also made forming connections more challenging, Leah says.
“You're missing physical cues that you would use to check in on students,” she says.
But despite the drawbacks of being remote, Leah deepened her resolve and adapted, opening up new avenues to interact with her students. One of these ways was dedicating an entire class period to student check-ins.
“I took that time to meet with kids in a breakout room, while still having my main class. We were still all in the same area, but the communication was now much stronger between us. We normalized checking in, and reaching out for help is something I hope the kids hold on to.”
Leah observed that her students became more willing to advocate for themselves and let their teachers know what's going on.
“I used to think I really heard the story. But [the COVID-19 pandemic] made me call myself out a lot of times, like Are you listening? Or are you making an assumption based on what you just recently heard?’ One of my big lessons is really listening to listen and to hear their story.”
“At the beginning I was like, ‘Oh my goodness, I'm getting so many text messages and emails.’ Now, looking back, it’s so nice that my kids are asking me for help, that they're coming to me,” she says.
Leah teaches biology, anatomy and physiology at Colorado High School Charter in Denver. She oversees the school’s annual health fair— started by a TFA alum— which introduces students to community partners and health resources they might not otherwise know are available. In leading impactful programs like the fair, Leah creates opportunities where her students are able to lead, learn, and thrive.
“I hope they find passion and the love to continue to grow, whether it’s learning or developing more skills in the profession, or building their own business or building as a person. They have the determination. They have the strength,” Leah says.