He calls it “Mr. Streets' Center for Remote Shed-ucation.” That’s accurate, as it really is just a shed. And a few weeks ago, after a yard sale helped him and his wife clear some clutter, it was an empty shed.
So Cory Streets, a special-education teacher outside Cleveland, created the type of space many remote workers crave these days: a fully-equipped, work-from-home haven. In his case, a classroom. Streets hoped he could produce something approaching normalcy for him and his students in the months of virtual learning that lay ahead.
“I wanted it to feel like a classroom,” Streets said, as he sat in the middle of his newly completed backyard creation. “So when the kids log onto Zoom it can feel like a real class. It can feel normal, as much as possible.”
Streets is a moderate-intensive intervention specialist at Lakewood High School, with a focus on students with cognitive disabilities and autism spectrum disorder. This fall, he is teaching math, science, English, social studies, music, and reading.
By his own admission, he’s a loud teacher. He likes to go over the top from time to time. This past spring, he taught out of the guest room in his house, but that room has since become a nursery. Streets and his wife, Emma, just welcomed their second child.
“Having this privacy out here, away from the house, I won’t have to worry about being theatrical with my lessons,” he said with a laugh. “I can really ham it up.”
The shed is equipped with everything a remote teacher might need: a desk, a laptop, a TV on which he can project his screen, whiteboards, a microphone, motivational posters, and even a river tank. Streets said the setup took a few weeks and a handful of trips to Lowe’s and Dollar Tree. The entire project cost him less than $100 and earned him some attention online and in the local media.
One major motivation to renovate the shed was an increase in synchronous, i.e., live, learning this fall. Streets has found that his students respond better to a live lesson than something asynchronous. While special-education classes do face their own distinct challenges in a remote setting, he said the main challenge he faces is true for general-education teachers as well: keeping students excited and engaged.
“It’s lots of coaxing, lots of phone calls, lots of reminders,” he said. “And that is the same across the board.”
In the spring, he watched his students slowly adapt to their new learning environments and realized a more consistent operation would provide both teacher and student more peace of mind.
“It was chaotic,” he said of those few months. “I can relate to my kids on this one, in that they enjoy predictability and routine and structure. And I knew that about myself, too, but I didn’t know how much I enjoy that until it all got turned on its head.”
The Lakewood City school district has offered educators the option of teaching from home or teaching from classrooms in the building. But there was only one real choice for Streets. Emma has an autoimmune disorder and was also deep into her pregnancy, so leaving the house and potentially putting his family at risk was out of the question.
“Of course, I want to be in the classroom, I want to see my students, I want to go back to normal,” he said. “But it’s not what’s safest for them and it’s absolutely not what’s safest for my family right now.”
For teachers and students across the country, adaptability has become the name of the game. That can come in many ways. Streets is the staff adviser for Lakewood’s herpetology club (studying reptiles) and this spring, as schools shut down, he found himself looking for homes for snakes, lizards, poison dart frogs, and insects. He started a foster program and sent out a notice to fellow staff members. The plan was to get the animals back in time for this fall, but with schools still operating remotely, he had to look for permanent homes. Most of the foster parents adopted.
It’s that type of generosity and flexibility that gives him hope for this school year. That, and his new backyard shed classroom.