6th-Grade Math Teacher Gives Lesson to Student Outside Her Home amid Pandemic: 'It's Who He Is'

"He just went above and beyond... He's such a good teacher and a great man," Josh Anderson says of his daughter Rylee's teacher Chris Waba

teacher helps student with homework through door
Photo: Stacy Anderson

A sixth-grade math teacher in South Dakota recently demonstrated how much he cares about his students’ success by going the extra mile to explain a lesson in-person, all while abiding by social distancing mandates amid the COVID-19 outbreak.

Madison Middle School teacher Chris Waba says he didn’t think twice about showing up to his student Rylee Anderson’s house after he received multiple emails from the 12-year-old on Friday, asking for help to explain the latest algebra lesson on graphing.

“You do what you can to help those kids through,” Waba, who lives across the street from Rylee, tells PEOPLE. “You can tell when kids are struggling and the last thing you want someone to do when it’s something new like this — and it’s new for all of us — is to become frustrated and then give up.”

“I really felt that we were almost at that point where Rylee was just about ready to say, ‘You know what, I’m done with this,’ and I didn’t want her to give up,” he adds. “She wasn’t very far away and the opportunity was there and it just worked out.”

Prior to Rylee reaching out, her father Josh Anderson says the math assignment had been challenging her.

“She’s a really good student and didn’t like the fact she couldn’t get it figured out on her own,” Josh recalls of his daughter. “She was in tears and so mad and frustrated because she couldn’t figure it out.”

teacher helps student with homework through door
Rylee Anderson and Chris Waba. Stacy Anderson

Knowing the teachers were making themselves available via email, Josh encouraged his daughter to reach out to Waba for help. Once she did, the pair began emailing back and forth all morning.

“Finally, she said, ‘I just don’t understand this assignment,'” Waba notes. “I looked over at my wall and there was a whiteboard sitting there that I had taken from school, and I had a marker in my hand, and I said, ‘Go to your front door, I’ll be there in a couple of seconds.’ … I just have a better way of communicating face-to-face than on the phone.”

According to Josh, Rylee was caught off guard when her teacher told her he would give her an in-person lesson.

“I think she was expecting maybe a FaceTime call or Zoom meeting, but when he said he was coming over, she was pretty shocked,” he says.

Standing outside their Madison, South Dakota home, Waba bundled up and explained the lesson to Rylee on his whiteboard. As he taught, the sixth-grader watched on from inside her home and took notes while both adhered to social-distancing mandates.

The sweet moment was then captured in a photo and eventually shared on Josh’s Twitter, where it has since gone viral and received thousands of likes.

Though Rylee was shocked to see her teacher outside, Josh says the kind gesture didn’t come as a complete surprise, as they’ve known Waba as a longtime friend and neighbor.

“It was absolutely not [out of character]. It doesn’t shock me. It’s what he is, it’s who he is,” he says. “He’d do anything he could to help a kid out. He just went above and beyond… He’s such a good teacher and a great man.”

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The father of three emphasizes that he was incredibly appreciative of Waba’s act of kindness for his daughter.

“It’s special to know that this is the kind of community we live in, this is the kind of school system that we have, and the kind of person he is,” he says. “To take time out of his day, even though it was quick and easy for him to do… it meant a lot to me.”

As for Waba, who has taught at the middle school for 27 years, he says Rylee grasping the topic was equally special to him.

“That’s the moment every teacher gets into the profession for,” he explains. “Whether it’s face-to-face or online or in a classroom full of 20 kids, that’s that look — that’s why we get up and do what we do.”

“It’s pretty cool to know that a simple act of kindness made such an impact,” he adds. “There are thousands and thousands of teachers across the country doing the same thing every day and for the same reason… I’m just one of them.”

As their district continues with remote instruction through at least May 4, Waba hopes that others use his story as a reminder of the power of being kind.

“Kindness matters. That’s really what this is all about,” he says. “We’re practicing social distancing and trying to do the right thing, [but ultimately] you want to do what’s right for the kids and make sure they believe in themselves and don’t ever quit.”

As of Wednesday afternoon, there have been at least 205,172 cases and 4,540 deaths attributed to coronavirus in the United States, according to the New York Times. In South Dakota, at least 129 cases and two deaths have been reported, according to the Times.

As information about the coronavirus pandemic rapidly changes, PEOPLE is committed to providing the most recent data in our coverage. Some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For the latest on COVID-19, readers are encouraged to use online resources from CDC, WHO, and local public health departments. To help provide doctors and nurses on the front lines with life-saving medical resources, donate to Direct Relief here.

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