Teacher Perspectives on Cho-Dae


Most rooms in the Cho-dae building are large and the ceiling looms high overhead. It’s a spacious building with bright lights, but it’s hard to appreciate the size when there are upwards of five classes being taught at the same time. 

Each section of the room, separated by tall, grey dividers, swells with a cacophony of noise. There’s a group of students talking about the latest instagram updates. Another has been staring at the same spot on the ceiling for at least five minutes. On the other side of the room, the teacher is crouched next to a table, coaching some students through their worksheet. She can barely be heard over the sound of a different teacher next door, who has been projecting a booming voice for the last twenty minutes. Next to the both of them is another class in the middle of a test. It’s part one of two, because thirty minutes simply isn’t enough time to take a full-length assessment.

Back in the first section, one student elbows another. Someone in the test-taking section has just been reprimanded for having their phone out. Practically everyone in the room can hear. Sometimes, the noise issue will reach its worst if an especially boisterous class finds something funny, or begins clapping. It doesn’t exactly suggest the most productive work environment, but for Creskill students, it’s the best they have. 

As we all know, on February 16th, in-person learning at the Chodae Mosaic Christian Fellowship officially began. This was presented as the closest thing to a solution to everyone’s problems we would get. From Monday to Thursday, students would be able to attend school in-person and look each other in the face! Well, with the exception of the bottom half of their faces, because there is still a global pandemic in place. 

The school day lasts from 9:00am – 2:02pm for highschoolers, and begins at 9:34am for middle school. This shortened day is meant to lessen traffic in the area for the students who already attend school in Northvale, as well as to accommodate bus schedules and provide some students with transportation. On a typical school day, a class would last for forty-five minutes. Now, each period is about thirty minutes. 

Alongside technology restrictions, lost materials, and Monday being shaved off the in-person schedule in order to give staff the time to set up the building for the rest of the week, student experience has definitely been affected. But students are not the only ones struggling to maintain a sense of normalcy and stability in these trying times. 

It’s hard to secure interviews, even if we’re now in-person. It’s to be expected that teachers who have elective classes may move around, but now there are several teachers placing their equipment in duffle bags and boxes to move them halfway across the school. There’s bathroom duty too, in case students attempt to deface property that does not belong to Cresskill, spread out from one side of the building to the other. It’s not ideal to take minutes out of an already short class for an interview. Plus, even after attending the new school for over a month, many still regard the map like one would a complex labyrinth. But finally, after a few days of planning and correspondence with understanding teachers, five interviews were confirmed. Students desperately want to know what’s going on behind the scenes and why lessons are set up the way they are, but these interviews are meant to give something a little extra as well: a personal teacher perspective.  

One of the greatest problems, Mr. Kevin Cardenas tells the Communique, is consistency and cohesion. “With all the recent obstacles, such as changing locations, changing the length of class time, and even finding balance between online and in-person classes, it has become a struggle to maintain consistency. Many of my lessons and activities have to be moved around in order to fit the various settings we are placed into.” 

Mr. Cardenas is a high school technology teacher. Expectedly, most of his classes rely on technology and online labs, but in-person learning at St. Therese and Cho-dae has been very limited in this regard. Several computers and iPads were damaged in the flood back at Cresskill Middle/High School and students have yet to receive something like school-provided WiFi or devices. 

“Many hands-on activities have to be modified to be done online for any virtual or hybrid classes, computer based activities have to be modified to be in person due to lack of computers and internet access at St. Therese and Chodae, and group work is limited due Covid-19 restrictions unless it is done in breakout rooms on zoom, which creates a new set of obstacles,” Mr. Cardenas explains. Several lessons that would typically have taken only one day are now being stretched to span over the course of an entire week, and other lessons simply cannot be completed in this situation and have been scrapped entirely. 

Mr. Shane Kress was interviewed in the hallway studio – a section of hallway in Sunshine Alley, nested between the Nurse’s Crying Room and the Middle School bathroom, composed of a fold-up table, some chairs, two large studio lights, cameras, and a green screen hung up against the wall. He does not have a problem with equipment. In video production, students use their phones and camera support devices to capture content, and then go home on virtual days to edit. In fact, in order to remain on pace for the school year, the programme he teaches has been almost entirely redeveloped.

“We are almost exactly on pace with what we did last year, and that is completely different from what we did the year before. The programme is different, so it’s hard to say if we’re on pace from one hundred percent in person instruction when we were last in Cresskill,” Mr. Kress says. “But the outcomes have been the same, so the learning objectives are still being met, it’s just the process that we reach those objectives that’s changed.”

“I’ve been teaching this programme for a long time and this has been a challenging year, but I do welcome the challenge. It gives me the opportunity to develop and design a programme that’s different than it has been, but still where the students can be successful,” he adds. If one looks, you may be able to find a bright side to all the accommodations that must be made to support the new circumstances, such as older programmes being renovated to expose students to new elements. There are undoubtedly several misfortunes following virtual learning and the switch from Chodae, but for many it helps to focus on positives. 

Mr. Jason Timochko teaches photography and discusses the obstacles his students face when trying to learn editing. Since I have no way to efficiently demonstrate Photoshop and editing at Chodae – a projector or large display screen is needed – I take advantage of our remote days to share my screen with students so they can follow along while I teach the software.” 

But, speaking of the light at the end of the tunnel, he does offer, “Worth mentioning, we are getting display screens soon at Chodae so I will have more flexibility in my schedule to demonstrate Photoshop and editing, or show examples of work.” After a month of passing around chromebooks and asking students to check their six inch by three inch mobile phones, learning will undoubtedly be enhanced by the addition of monitors for better presentation. A concrete date has yet to be offered (to students), but remember to look out for that.

Mrs. Meaghan Cardenas is a middle school English teacher, and not exempt from technology issues. She lists as examples, “If I had a research based assignment, I can’t do that because there’s no internet for days that we are at Chodae. So whether that means that I have to completely redo the lesson and my goals for the day, or I find the research and print out the articles to share them with everyone. Other things have been, I wanted to do presentations, and so I had to change the entire assignment because we didn’t have computers, or we didn’t have internet, so the students couldn’t access google slides.” 

As times change and technology becomes more integrated within daily life, as well as the complete dependency on virtual learning during the worst of the pandemic, it’s clear that online resources have become essential to classrooms. Perhaps a slow transition may have been able to gently push the focus back to paper assignments, but the sudden switch to Chodae is anything but slow and gentle. Teachers and students alike are left scrambling to compensate for the changes. 


“It’s definitely been a challenging year and I think that it took a little while, but I think the students – everyone sees how challenging it is on everyone. Whether it’s the students seeing the staff having technology issues, or we understand students don’t have access to certain things,” Mrs. Cardenas summarizes with a light laugh. “I think that this whole year has had a lot of requirements for grace.” 

The last interview of the day is after school hours with Mr. Henry Surgent, who teaches history at CHS. Practically every student has vacated the building, but many teachers remain, sitting in groups in the lunchroom or crowding around one section in an otherwise empty room. It’s almost haunting to be able to walk through a doorway without a constant stream of different students crowding the path. 

“I think one of the things they teach you about when you become a teacher is that you have to remain incredibly flexible, and I don’t think I have ever felt that more than I have this year,” Mr. Surgent opens with. It’s clear in every classroom how much care a teacher may try to put in their lessons, but failure and unforeseen difficulties are unavoidable. He continues, “There’s a real difficulty, I think, for students to know whether or not they should be completing something online or in a hard copy. Limited access to printers and copiers for teachers has made it difficult for us to kind of say, well, hand this in in google classroom, or hand it in in-person.” 

There is a general theme amongst different teacher’s lessons. Many have had to warp their lesson plans and own teaching methods in order to make the best of the situation. It’s anyone’s guess if Cresskill students will be able to easily acclimate to a standard curriculum after returning to normal school hours, or if they will struggle underneath the weight of even more changes, but at the very least they are being offered the best education teachers can currently offer. 

At the end, Mr. Surgent concludes with a shoutout, “To all my fellow teachers. It’s been really, really difficult, but I feel like it has probably bonded us together more than ever. I think the same goes for the students, too.”

And it’s true. During difficult times, it’s worryingly easy to fall back on blame and shift the responsibility for one’s own failures onto someone else, but sometimes it’s just easier to take accountability and grow from your mistakes. In order to guarantee a successful and enriching school year, it is imperative that teachers and students demonstrate a level of understanding and, preferably on the students’ end, cooperation. 

Let this serve as a reminder for any reader: it’s always good to be kind and empathetic, but more so now than ever. Every single person in the Chodae building is human and deserving of respect, not scorn and disregard. In order to gain a semblance of normality and stability, everyone must work together. 

There are no bells in the Cho-dae building. However, many teachers do use their phones as pseudo school bells. At 2:02, multiple iPhones trill their alarms like a noisy, off-key choir. Students trip over themselves and bags to get to the front of the building. Only two entrances means that the doors and front of the building are ridiculously crowded at the end of the day. 

The class stuck taking a test, maybe their first in-person one since 2020, run for the door faster than others. If you glance at the fold-up table, you may even see a few assessments left behind. Over the deafening rumble of five classes hurrying to collect their belongings in the same room, teachers bid their students farewell. Some were already out the door before it even hit two o’clock. But others linger behind, whether it’s to return goodbyes to their teachers or ask questions about the day’s lesson. It’s not a necessary action, but at the end of the day, people will remember small things like that.