When a historic derecho struck the Cedar Rapids, Iowa, area on August 10, Annie Efting found herself in the basement of the home where she served as nanny to seven children.
“We were in a room with no windows, thankfully, so no kids knew exactly how bad the storm truly was,” says Efting, a University of Northern Iowa senior who was about to begin orientation for student teaching in the Cedar Rapids school district. “Once we got the okay that it was safe to go upstairs, I was in a state of shock. I couldn’t even contact the rest of my family in Cedar Rapids because no one had cell phone service. It was nerve wracking for a couple of hours until I could get home!”
Chloe Pflughaupt was another student preparing for student teaching while living in Palo with her family over the summer. That day, though, she was in Cedar Rapids where she and her boyfriend were planning to go golfing. Then her mom called, telling her about the storm.
“When it hit, we (Chloe, her boyfriend and his grandmother) were all upstairs watching it roll in,” she recalls, surprised by the unexpected storm. “The wind quickly picked up and trees started blowing over--one of the trees actually hit a kitchen window and broke it in. At that point, we went downstairs to wait it out from a safer location.”
After the wind slowed, they emerged from the basement to find multiple trees down in the neighborhood, including two large trees that buried her car in the driveway.
Connecting with UNI student teaching coordinator
“I didn't have service to contact Leasha (Henriksen) until the next day,” she says, referring to the UNI student teaching coordinator for the Cedar Rapids Center. “She emailed everyone in our cohort to notify us that our Target pickup times had changed, along with our virtual orientation due to no one having power. She was very accommodating to the situation,” says Efting.
Pflughaupt’s car, though not damaged itself, was buried by trees in front and behind. It took two days of ax work to clear the car. Cell service did not return until Friday, and further clean-up around the yard delayed her from picking up materials from Henriksen until a week later.
For a couple of weeks, the two were in limbo, uncertain when or where they would student teach, if at all.
Pflughaupt was originally set to teach at Van Buren Elementary in a first grade class and, for her second session, at Cedar River Academy at Taylor Elementary, working with K-5 for a special education placement. Efting was set to student teach first grade at Garfield Elementary, followed by placement at Prairie Creek in the College Community School District.
Henriksen emailed them both on August 24. Due to storm damage to the Cedar Rapids schools, they were switching districts and schools. Both would start at Alburnett Elementary, where Pflughaupt would do two placements, one in special education for K-5 students and the second with a second grade classroom. Efting would start at Alburnett in that second grade classroom and move on to College Community for her second seven-week session. After orientation and some professional development, they were in class as kids returned on Monday, August 31.
“I had already established a great relationship with my mentor teacher so I was very bummed to hear it wasn't going to happen,” Efting says, reflecting the emotions of fellow students whose placements changed. “However, I was excited at the same time to be placed at Alburnett Elementary. I was thankful I would have as much time in the classroom as possible.”
Cleaning up, moving forward
Fortunately, Alburnett schools did not sustain the same level of damage as Cedar Rapids, though both students joined in neighborhood clean-up efforts. “It was definitely a group effort to clean up the ginormous mess, but we have a great community in Cedar Rapids overall which made it possible,” Annie says.
While the derecho and ensuing clean-up made for a challenging start to the school year, it further complicated what was already a tough return to school in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Pflughaupt says the setback from the pandemic and school ending early in spring 2020 led to teachers this fall working together to get students back in an “environment of learning.”
“For a lot of students, this is the first time they have been in school in six months. Many are behind, some are struggling with listening, paying attention in class and working with peers again,” she says. “However, I am very surprised to see many of the students making progress towards ‘functioning’ in a school setting again. The kids came back to school ready to learn and ready to see their teachers and friends again. Teachers have taken the time to review what it means to be in school again as well as really listen to students’ experiences they had while being out.”
The benefits of adapting
Between an ongoing pandemic and a surprise derecho, Pflughaupt and Efting found a resilience they know will benefit them as they look to leading their first classrooms.
“The biggest thing that this situation has taught me is that nothing ever goes to plan and that's ok. I had to adapt at the last minute and ‘start over’ in a sense with my new mentor teacher and my new school. I was excited for the challenge, however,” Efting says. “This made me think about being a teacher in general, and how nothing ever goes to plan sometimes. Teachers are constantly adapting with lesson plans, schedules, you name it! Being able to adapt and work well through changes are some of the most important things we can do as teachers.
Pflughaupt adds: “One thing I have always known in my training as a teacher is the art of flexibility. The aftermath of the storm and the pandemic is really highlighting this as a key trait of a teacher.
“Another thing I have definitely learned through this experience specifically is the saying ‘it takes a village to teach.’ I am seeing teachers asking each other for suggestions of how they can teach in such a different time than what they are used to. Teaching is such a team sport and I am very fortunate to be seeing this in such a close community school. I think Alburnett has really shown me exactly what it means to take what you are given and roll with it and ask for help when needed.”
Upon graduation on November 28, 2020, Chloe Pflughaupt looks forward to joining the Iowa City Community School District as a special education teacher, while Annie Efting plans to substitute teach in the Cedar Rapids area for the rest of the 2020-21 school year.