Podcast: Why Teaching Is Rewarding with Darla Moyers and Renae Kuhn in WV and VA on Teachers in America

21 Min Read
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Mother-daughter educators Darla Moyers (left) and Renae Kuhn (right).

Welcome back to Teachers in America, where we celebrate teachers and their lasting impact on students' learning journeys and lives.

In this episode, we'll hear from mother-daughter educators Darla Moyers and Renae Kuhn on how Renae caught her mother's passion for education early on. They are based in West Virginia and Virginia respectively. Host Noelle Morris speaks to them about navigating screen time and technology, empowering students to direct their own learning, and why they recommend teaching as a profession.

A full transcript of the episode appears below; it has been edited for clarity.

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Noelle Morris: Welcome to Teachers in America, a production of HMH, where we celebrate teachers and recognize their triumphs, challenges, sacrifices, and dedication to students. We see you. We want our listeners to feel not only inspired by the practice, but to also have a renewed sense of community.

I am the Senior Director of Community Engagement, Noelle Morris. Each episode, I meet a new teacher friend and learn about the latest lessons and innovations from the classroom.

Today we are joined by Renae Kuhn, a 1st grade teacher at Greenwood Mill Elementary in Winchester, Virginia—and her mom Darla Moyers, a Technology Integration Specialist for Preston County Schools in West Virginia. We met up at the Model Schools Conference this summer for this conversation.

Renae is in her 6th year of teaching and is an HMH Teacher's Corner Contributor, who has facilitated several of our Live Events. She was named 2021-22 Teacher of the Year by her school. She is LETRS and Orton-Gillingham trained, and she graduated from West Virginia University with a Bachelor's Degree in Multidisciplinary Studies and a Master's Degree in Elementary Education.

Darla has been employed for Preston County Schools in Kingwood, West Virginia for 38 years. She taught 1st grade for most of her career. For the last 10 years, she has worked as a Technology Integration Specialist. Darla received her Master's Degree from West Virginia University. Darla and Renae are each other’s champions and I really enjoyed this conversion on why the teaching profession is so rewarding.

Now, let’s get to the episode.

Darla and Renae

Kuhn's mother, who inspired Kuhn to become a teacher, is also her biggest fan.

Noelle Morris: Hey, Renae and Darla. I'm so excited to have y'all as guests on Teachers in America.

I knew Renae first. And through Renae, I've met Darla because I was like, "Renae, who is Darla, who is always showing up at the live event?"

She said, "Oh, that's my mom." I said, "Well, she is your biggest fan!"

Then I found out your mom is also an educator, so I'd love to talk to you about your teacher journeys.

Darla, we're going to start with you because you've raised two daughters and they're both educators. So, tell me about your teacher journey, and what you're doing now.

Darla Moyers: Okay. Well, my journey started back in 1985. That's when I graduated from college, and I was hired right on the spot. I will be starting my 38th year in teaching this fall.

I’ve taught first grade. I've taught second grade. Probably the most exciting time in my career was when I was able to loop with a fellow teacher. What I did was I taught first grade one year, and then I kept my kids, and I taught them for second grade. Talk about being able to pick up and teach on day one; it was an awesome experience.

I would tell anybody, "The way we need to change teaching is that you need to be looping." That is one thing that I think is awesome.

I was a technology coach in the county. I went from the superintendent at the time, saw the need for technology, and to train teachers how to use technology correctly.

For probably four or five years, I traveled throughout my county, helping teachers use the technology. And then I basically came to the county office, and, for the past four years, I sort of do the behind-the-scenes work. I make sure programs are uploaded. I run the software that we use in the county. We have laptops in our district and we have iPads. I run the K–2 iPads at the county.

With my teaching career, I know what the teachers want; I've had that background. So when they say, "I want this app, I need to do this, or I'm out researching what needs to work," I have to make sure Amira works with HMH; it needs to work on the iPad. I do all the background work with IT now.

I wanted both my girls to do whatever they wanted to do, but I think they grew up seeing what I did as a teacher. I just think they liked what I did. I mean, I encouraged them to do whatever they wanted…

Renae Kuhn: Teaching was fun. I don't mean to cut her off, but teaching was fun. Growing up, my mom's sitting at the table when she's planning this lesson plan that I did as a first grader. She's planning this lesson plan on how to measure, but then we made a dinosaur out of our cardboard boxes. I watched her plan that year after year after year. It was an easy decision.

Makerspace and Seedlings

Moyers and Kuhn emphasize fun and creativity in their teaching.

Noelle: Renae, tell us about your teacher journey. It sounds like it might have started when you were a kid—you mapped it out. Tell us about how you came into the classroom.

Renae: I had wonderful teachers growing up. When I think about differentiating, I think of my kindergarten teacher, and the things that she helped me do.

I still have the things that she gave me. I still have the book that she wrote a note to me in. I still have Mr. Spaceman that she painted—she hand-painted a clothespin into a spaceman for me, so I could remember to space out my words when I was writing.

I had wonderful teachers. I watched my mom do it. I grew up all around it. I grew up loving school. I love to learn.

I also had the opportunity to go into one of the elementary schools as a high school student, just mentor and help, and basically be a volunteer in those classrooms.

In my senior year of high school, we went to a tech conference in Phoenix, Arizona. That's when I knew that I wanted to be a teacher and I wanted to have tech be a part of it. I wanted to have access to all of these things, and see what other people were doing, but put my own twist on things.

Through college, I was in the five-year teacher program. I did preschool, first, second, third, fourth, and fifth grade. I subbed in middle school, so I had a range. I had experience in every grade level. After college, I met with some friends...

Darla: She wasn't coming home to teach.

Noelle: I was going to ask that. When you just said it, I loved seeing Darla's face. I knew the moment she was going to be a teacher, but not coming back home.

Darla: Yeah. It's only two hours away.

Renae: I interviewed and I got hired. I had never been to the area, by the way. I had no idea what I was getting myself into.

It was just a shoulder shrug, "Okay, I got a job." We went down shortly after I got the job to see the school. Again, I had never been there, never seen the school. We rented hotel rooms. My mom and my grandma came down with me, and I tried to find a place to live. I got to see the school. We just spent the whole weekend there figuring out where I was going to be living.

Noelle: There's something that about the journey. I mean, it's interesting because you're both educators. What I have just loved seeing the dynamic with you is that your mom is your biggest fan.

I'm just curious too, that whole college thing. I'm two hours away, but it's still two hours away. You grew up in West Virginia, You live in, now, Virginia. I'm curious. When it came to your first classroom, was that also part of a family moment?

Darla: Yeah. I mean, I went in and I looked at the school before she accepted the job. We went down and visited the school. I met the principal; we walked through the building. I got a tour and we looked at the classroom. I'm like, “Oh, yeah. I think this will be okay." You want to have the right personality with your principal. Yeah, I went down.

Noelle: Your mom interviewed the principal without her knowing it. She had a whole list.

Renae: My mom always says...I know she jokes. Well, no, she doesn't joke. Mother knows best. My mom's my best friend for starters, so your best friend always wants to set you up for success.

Leaves of Thanks

Moyers's experience as a teacher, as well as her support of her daughter, helped set Kuhn up for her own teaching success.

Noelle: Hey, teacher friends. I want to tell you about Teacher's Corner. A community of teachers, learning experts, and coaches gathered in one place to support you with a new kind of professional learning. Bite-sized, teacher-selected, and teacher-driven.

We include this digital experience with every HMH program on Ed. With on-demand sessions, lesson demonstrations, program support, or practical resources, Teacher's Corner lets you choose how you interact with our content. I like to think about it as inspiration on-demand.

Because we like extending our connections to wherever teachers are, we also have a Teacher's Corner from HMH Facebook Group that is growing every day.

Don't hesitate. Join me and the rest of the community at HMH. We are always in your corner.

Noelle: Now, back to the episode.

What I want our guests to know is that you, Renae, are a teacher contributor for HMH. You're part of Teacher's Corner. You use Into Reading.

I know that's the only reason I'm meeting your mom...In her district, she uses some of our programs as well, but I usually wouldn't necessarily meet a technology director unless I was talking about our interventions. I met your mom because she is your biggest fan.

Darla, when you think about today, the space for teachers, how technology has led people to connect with teachers, and not just in your district. It once was like you really only knew the teachers in your school. Once a year, you got together at your district level or did some PD, but now it's a different game.

What are you noticing about technology that puts this generation of teachers in a different place than when you and I first started?

Darla: I think learning continues at all times. Before COVID (we live in a very high snow belt— I'll call it in West Virginia), we used to have snow days. We had to come up with a plan to teach during snow days because, I mean, we would miss five, seven, 10 days. We already knew how to video-record and do things like that.

Then when COVID hit, it was like, when they say turn on a dime, we were ready to roll because we already had some experience with videotaping and recording lessons. I think now that the learning goes on. We have kids that are on at seven in the morning. Maybe they're learning about this or that, or we have a virtual class, and they're on in the evening, or things like that.

I think learning for students nowadays can be at any time, any place, anywhere...and off we go. We're very fortunate in our district; we have one-to-one devices. The teachers all have a presentation station, and they know how to record and do this.

Learning happens even if the student is sick and can't come to school. We've had the issue, I think nationwide, with bus shortages. Buses don't run. So, say bus 58 isn’t running in this area. So those kids, if they can't make it in, if the parents can't bring them, they can still join virtually because the devices go back and forth every day with the students.

Noelle: Wow. You livestream? So if I'm a teacher, I get notified that someone's going to be absent. Depending on why they're absent, they can either join and I'm live streaming, but I'm also recording that lesson, and then it’s being archived?

Darla: Yes. We can record that and put it up. We did that, of course, very heavily during COVID. If students couldn't be live in the session, then [teachers] recorded it and dropped it in our learning management system, and it was there for them.

Today, even, some of the teachers are going back to those lessons where they taught specific skills. They're like, "Oh, if [someone] missed today," they can just drop that lesson in that they taught, maybe last year, on a specific skill or standard.

As I said, learning is just continual. I think teachers nowadays need to be ready to just move and they need to think out of the box.

Since COVID, things don't always work like they used to, and we need to be very flexible. One of the issues that you face was that previously the kids came to school, they sat and they listened, and they did this and that.

Well, for a year-and-a-half or so in the district, it was like, okay, they laid in bed, did their work from lying in bed, or they were eating cereal during this, or they watched the recording. So kids are not used to that formal structure of school. Kids have had to learn how to come back into that type of format, so we have to be ready to change. It's all different now.

Noelle: Right. Renae, how would you describe the... because I mean, is this your fifth year teaching? So two of those years were pandemic.Were you in year two?

Renae: I was in year three. The first two years, I taught fifth grade. I moved school, I moved grade level, I moved district, then I taught first grade.

Then during that year, in March, is when we shut down. I had that little time, and then we were shut down. This past school year was my fifth year.

Noelle: What do you think? I mean, after you went to ISTE in Phoenix, in your senior year in high school, you were probably already using technology in your classroom. What did you start really boosting to gain more skills during pandemic teaching that you're still using today—and you now don't know how you weren't doing that before?

Renae: I grew up with technology, so implementing it for me was like, "Oh, fun. Let's do this."

During the pandemic, my county said, "We can only have so much time of live instruction because of screen time.” Immediately, we were all like, "Oh, my gosh. I'm trying to teach my kids how to learn to read. I need 30 minutes just alone for that.” I was supposed to be also in that 30 minutes doing math, science, social studies, writing. I didn't have enough time.

What I did during distance learning was I started recording myself doing videos, like a flipped classroom. That is something that has not gone away.

I have utilized that in the past two years and it has been so successful. I know I've talked to you about this before, having the EL population, or any population really, because I push it out to all of my students.

Here's a math lesson where I can really hone in on the math vocabulary because there are so many math vocabulary words. "Here's your math lesson, go ahead and watch this, do this exit ticket.” Then when it's actually time for me to teach you math, I already know what misconceptions we have. I already know what I need to go hit again. Or I will record myself doing a writing lesson and then I'll look at their journals to see what they've done. Again, when it’s time to teach writing, I already know what I need to address.

For me, that blended learning is not going away for me. I am still giving them direct instruction. It's just on their computers.

I'm meeting with a small group, giving them direct instruction, but the rest of my kids are also still getting me—just in a different way. Things that I may be previewing, or I might send out a quick little lesson of me reviewing, and then giving them their worksheet activity, whatever game it may be to do. For me, that is one thing that's not going away.

Noelle: What have you learned from your students? What have they said about this way of learning from you, but not always physically in the same space? Even if you're within the same four walls, what do your students tell you?

Renae: They love it. They love that they always get their time with Ms. Kuhn. Even if it's not their day to meet with Ms. Kuhn at her small group table, they still get time with her.

Because to them, I'm on their computer screen, and they've got me blown up full screen. When I'm saying, "Hi, guys. Happy Tuesday," I see them waving to their computers because that's me saying “hi” to them and greeting them. I'll pause and have them think about something.

They're answering their Chromebook…I see them interacting with it. They love it. It's on their time. If they need to pause the video and go get a drink, they pause the video and go get a drink. They have ownership of their learning. They're held accountable for their learning, but they still have time to do the learning. It's just on their terms. It's in like a “choice board” format. It's like, "Okay. Well, you can do the math video first and then you can do the writing, or you can do a math video and then a reading game." They have choice. They are responsible for it and they love it.

Noelle: Darla, when it comes to screen time, how do you help families understand balancing that screen time, helping them understand the one-to-one devices? I think that's a concern across families thinking about the child, but the child has a lot more resilience to the screen.

What's some advice you give to parents? How do you navigate that communication?

Darla: Well, we tried to break it up. If they were doing some reading activities or some math activities, we'll tell them, 15 to 20 minutes, maybe do a reading activity, then put the device down, come back, do maybe 20 minutes. For math, try not to go more than 20 to 25 minutes at a time sitting in front of the device, because we want them out and playing.

Even when we did the activity, we would say, "Help your parents with a recipe. Use the measurement.” If dad's using the saw, for upper elementary kids, "Go out and learn the types of skills that your mom and dad are doing and see how that applies to math or to reading.”

Darla Quote Card 2

Moyers believes that "learning continues at all times," regardless of the circumstances.

Noelle: I love that you just said, "If your dad's using the saw.” That to me is the pedagogy on place-based learning. It seems like it's just a natural part of West Virginia.

Renae told me that, and correct me if I'm wrong, is there a slaughterhouse class? Like learning how to do a slaughterhouse in the school district?

I would think our listeners would love hearing some of those things that are specific to your region and how you have embedded that.

Then Renae, I would love to hear your experience as a student.

Darla: We do have a slaughterhouse. They go through the whole process, and then that student that's been in our slaughterhouse can go out to the local grocery store. They can work in the meat department and cut up the meat that comes into the grocery stores.

We have a drone class where they're flying drones, learning about that. We have an auto body mechanics class. We have an electrician class where you come out as a welder.

We have a nursing program, child development. We're very fortunate in our high school that it's just part of our curriculum. The kids can go to reading or math, and then they walk down and go to this slot. We're known for our JROTC program. We have one of those. So, we do a lot.

Noelle: I was amazed by the slaughterhouse because when Renae and I were talking, I was like, "I want to make sure I'm hearing you correctly!"

She's like, "Noelle, where I grew up, that is a big part of living.” They're seeing jobs that they can have here and have a life after high school. Seeing that, I was just amazed.

I love that we can have this conversation, and also talk about iPads and apps, because this is what's important about people understanding the whole educator, the whole teacher. The life that we love, the community where we live. We love watching a kindergarten or a Pre-K enter our buildings and graduate.

It's this moment and it's the life that you give back. I guarantee you're in a community where people knew Renae as Darla's child before they knew Renae. Now, there are people that you're probably seeing that you taught that still live there. I can't imagine.

Share with us a story, a moment you weren't expecting to run into someone you taught and you did.

Darla: Well, just even going to the local store the other day, I had this student in first grade when I taught. I'm like, "Oh, my gosh.” He walked in the door and I'm like, "Glen. Is that you Glen? Oh, my gosh." He knew and we just hugged. Yeah, I see students all the time.

Now, I'm seeing their children come through and I'm like, "I know who your dad is”—that type of thing. To that point, I never thought I'd be to that part of my career, but I'm to that part in my career. Then when I walk into schools and they say what this child's name is, then I can say, "Oh, I bet I had your dad," or "I know your family”—that type of thing.

Noelle: I love that. I'm watching Renae's face looking at you, seeing all like her life is flashing before her, too.

Darla: Yeah, because she knew the kids in my class. I mean, I even had Renae. She was in my class. I taught Renae.

Noelle: Renae, tell me about a story where you've heard something, and you're like, "That's my mom."

Renae: Now, more, as I'm an adult, I think that because in her county or on Facebook, I keep up with a lot of things. There just seems to be a lot of times where it's, "Oh, Darla's done this," or "Darla's helped me with this.” Every time, I just get that little heartthrob like, "That's my mom. Yeah. She's doing her thing." It is making a difference. Even though we don't ever feel like it is, it is.

Darla: Yeah. Renae's sister, Rebecca, is also a teacher. Both of my girls teach. She teaches middle-school math. Sometimes, when you want to come home in the evening, you just want to forget about school. Well, that doesn't happen in our house.

Renae calls me on the way home from school, then I hear her stories from the day and, "Mom, what would you do? Can you help me with this?” Then I talk to Rebecca in the evening and I hear this, or I'm in her classroom because she teaches in my district so I can go into her classroom. It never ends. Education never ends.

Noelle: I'm going to do a host twist. Every episode I ask guests what is your “walk up” song, because I think teachers need to know their walk up song.

I'm going to ask Renae to say what your mom's walk up song would be. Then I'm going to ask Darla to say what would be the walk up song for Renae. Who wants to go first? Renae, give your mom a chance to think for you.

Renae: I know this is going to sound so bizarre and you're going to be like,"Why?" But I would say anything by Lionel Richie because that's what we jam out to.

Darla: She'll call and she'll say, "Hey, Lionel's on." We know what songs each other's playing and what radio station we're on.

Renae: In my mind, when you ask me for a walk up song, just throw on some Lionel Richie and put us up there together, because we do everything together. We're here together. We do everything together. Just put on some Lionel and we're ready to go.

Noelle: I find it so endearing because y'all's relationship has really been one that I've just admired and love because I'm a single mom raising a daughter. I know how close we are. I want her to be whatever she wants to be as well.

Darla: Right. That's what I said. The girls knew that teaching... I mean, we've come a long way in our pay scale, but it just wasn't always that way…. They're like, "Well, why would you want to do that? You don't make as much money as you could in this career."

I even tell people to this day, "You go, be a teacher, because this world needs great teachers like you.” I will always support. I mean, I say all the time, "Yes, be a teacher. We need people like you. Be a teacher, be a teacher.” I don't think people hear that enough today because it is an absolute awesome profession, so rewarding.

Renae: I know people watch what I do, they see all of the innovation, and that sort of thing. I've had people ask me, "Renae, why are you in the classroom?"

This is where I want to be. I wouldn't want to be anywhere else. Of course, I can go and do that, but I get to share it with 24 kids every day.

Give them this experience that maybe they would never even get or maybe they've never thought of, but I'm the one that gets to share that with them.

Darla: Yeah. There's nothing like relationship building with your kids. They come up and hug you every day and you just know...I mean, you know everything.

The relationship is awesome because they're your kids. I always say, "Those are my kids." If you've had me as a teacher, they're my kids.

Noelle: Well, this interview is reminding me that those relationships, having those with 25 six-year-olds, is the only reason you can be in a grocery store, see someone and say, "I know who your dad is."

They're this second generation of a product of who you taught because you had that relationship. I am renewed in the fact of you encouraging people to become teachers. Darla, listening to you, I'm going to make that part of my mission. I love that we have our first Lionel Richie walk up song.

Renae: You got any Lionel you want to put on? We're ready.

Noelle: I know. I'm going to add some to my playlist. It'll be like, “Hello? Is it me you’re looking for?”

Renae: Dancing on the ceiling.

Noelle: Dancing on the ceiling.

Renae: Yeah. I'm serious. We'll, I'll send my mom a picture of my radio. I'm like, "Here it is. Look at this song.”

Noelle: Well, Lionel might actually hear this. I'm going to be like, "Hey, Lionel. Let's go to West Virginia, and then drive two hours to Virginia."

Renae: I'll meet you in West Virginia, you don't have to worry about that. If Lionel's coming, I'll meet you there.

Noelle: Thank y'all so much.

Darla: Thank you.


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