The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Math teacher showed up on struggling student’s porch to teach her from a distance

Sixth-grade math teacher Chris Waba stopped by Rylee Anderson's porch in Madison, S.D., to help the 12-year-old with a math lesson. (Stacy Anderson)

Two weeks into doing her middle school lessons at home because of the coronavirus pandemic, 12-year-old Rylee Anderson of Madison, S.D., was feeling frustrated and alone. She’d tried several times to complete a math problem, but nothing made sense.

Because her parents were picking up their car at the auto shop and “my mom got all the answers wrong that she'd helped me with,” Rylee decided to email her math teacher, Chris Waba. Could he help?

“You bet,” Waba said. Besides teaching sixth-grade math at Madison Middle School, he also happened to live directly across the street.

Rylee was waiting at the computer for him to email her some tips, when the doorbell rang. There was Waba, standing on her front porch in weekend clothes and a baseball cap, holding a marker and a large whiteboard.

“I thought it was pretty awesome to see my teacher making a house call to give me a private lesson,” she said.

For the next 10 minutes, Waba, 52, sat at a socially safe distance on the front porch and patiently talked Rylee through the graphing problem that she was stuck on as she listened through the screen door.

A Virginia man surprised shoppers in need by paying $2,600 for their groceries

As Waba helped Rylee complete three math equations, her parents returned home and her mom, Stacy Anderson, snapped a photo of the front porch lesson on March 27. Rylee’s dad, Josh Anderson, who is head football coach at Dakota State University, shared one of the snapshots on Twitter.

“I was so appreciative of Chris that I wanted people to know about [what he did] since teachers across the country are having to take extra steps right now to help their students,” he said. “I thought I’d get maybe 80 ‘likes.’ ”

Within days, the photo had been retweeted and liked thousands of times.

“We need as much positivity as we can get these days, and this was something people could smile about,” said Anderson, 44. “All of us are having to find new ways to do things and adapt to the situation we’re in — just like Chris found a fun way to help my daughter.”

Waba, who is the son of a school principal and has taught in Madison for 27 years, said he hasn't made a habit of going door-to-door with algebra and geometry tips. But he could sense that Rylee was frustrated and ready to give up.

“She’s a good math student, but I thought working through a problem with her was a better plan,” he said. “Most questions I’ve been able to answer through email or a Zoom session, but this time, I just grabbed my board and took off out the door.”

Newspaper deliveryman brings groceries to his older customers on morning route, no extra charge

Initially, when Rylee learned in mid-March that her school was closing until the pandemic was over, she was excited to sleep in an extra hour or two and complete her assignments online, she said.

“I always used to think it would be fun to be home-schooled,” she said, “But now, I don’t think so. It’s kind of hard to be out of my routine. I miss my friends a lot. I miss our sleepovers and just hanging out.”

For Waba, the feeling was mutual about being separated from his students.

“Teachers all over the country are missing their students, and this has turned into a very uncertain world,” he said. “People are nervous and anxious. I just tried to do something kind, and it seems to have a heart string.”

Josh Anderson said he'll never forget the sight of Waba and his whiteboard on the front porch.

“I’m just very thankful for his kindness in more ways than one,” he said. “When it comes to math, Chris knows what he’s doing. And I don’t.”

Read more:

Neurosurgeon famous for separating conjoined twins died of covid-19. His real legacy was his humanity.

What we can learn about this covid-19 time from a nonspeaking autistic teen

The Daily Break: One uplifting story a day from better times

Have a story for Inspired Life? Here’s how to submit.