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Nine Network's 'Teaching In Room 9’ Puts Local Teachers On TV Screens

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Provided by the Nine Network
'Teaching in Room 9' shows St. Louis area teachers doing what they do best: teaching.

In March, when schools across the region shut down to stop the spread of the coronavirus, the Nine Network sprang into action. St. Louis’ PBS affiliate moved swiftly to broadcast local teachers — making two hours of lessons available each weekday beginning in April. The station called it “Teaching in Room 9.”

The lessons continued throughout the summer. And this fall, as many school districts again announced that they would not be offering in-person instruction, the Nine Network doubled down on its commitment to broadcasting lessons. It now offers three hours of “Teaching in Room 9” each day, with reading and math four days a week and social studies and science each Friday. The station boasts well over 350 episodes, and more than 606,000 views from local students.

On Friday’s St. Louis on the Air, Andi Harpring, Nine Network’s director of engagement and learning, explained that community demand led to the show’s creation.

The TV station first created an educator tool kit for parents and the teachers suddenly tasked with Zoom classes. “We did that right out of the gate, and we were having conversations with educational leaders to make sure we were providing what our community needed in the moment,” Harpring said. “Through these conversations, three times, with educational leaders and the St. Louis Pandemic Task Force, the idea of having teachers teach on television came up. After about the third time, I went to our leadership.”

The executive she approached had a quick answer, Harpring recalled: “Our community is asking for it — let’s do it.”

She added that the goal is to serve families without a reliable internet connection (or extra computer), with a particular focus on pre-K through third-grade students.

Joining the discussion was Kristen Forth. The English language arts instructional coach for the Rockwood School District is currently providing first-grade reading lessons on “Teaching in Room 9.”

She said it was difficult, initially, to teach something like reading to the cameras instead of little faces. “It was definitely different at first, but honestly I leaned into what I watched on PBS growing up,” Forth explained. “Mr. Rogers, Captain Kangaroo, ‘Blue’s Clues’ and ‘Dora the Explorer’ — they exemplify what it’s like to talk to a screen, pretending children are there and answering along with you. So really I just brought out my inner Dora the Explorer as I was recording the lessons.”

Now, Forth added, teaching the TV lessons feels easier than a Zoom-style class, even despite the lack of real-time feedback.

“When you’re doing it in a Zoom class, with a lot of little faces moving around, it can become very distracting,” she said. “I find it a little easier to record than do live teaching.”

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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Sarah Fenske joined St. Louis Public Radio as host of St. Louis on the Air in July 2019. Before that, she spent twenty years in newspapers, working as a reporter, columnist and editor in Cleveland, Houston, Phoenix, Los Angeles and St. Louis.

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