Henry Van Zytveld

Henry is a 20-year-old film student from Chicago, Illinois. He is currently studying film and television production at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, California. Upon graduation, he hopes to pursue a career in documentary film.

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In March of 2020, myself and millions of others were forced to shelter at home as the world attempted to control the emerging Covid-19 virus. While my mother had been a teacher for my whole life, it was the first time I was able to observe her doing what she loves. Inspired, I picked up my camera and began to capture her new experience as a teacher separated from her students. By completing this film I hope to share what life was like for a teacher in the midst of a pandemic. It is through this story of struggle, adaptation, and love that I hope some may ultimately reconsider the importance of teachers in our lives.

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Teacher in the Window

On March 16th, 2020, Chicago Public Schools halted in-person learning in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic. Thousands of students, parents, and teachers suddenly faced a new reality: online learning. For 5th-grade teacher Karen Van Zytveld, this meant engaging with her students while seated behind a laptop in her living room. For three months, Karen was challenged to adapt her lessons in creative ways, all while worrying about the health and safety of her students throughout the city.

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This film documents the experience of 5th-grade teacher Karen Van Zytveld as she adjusts to teaching remotely in the initial months of the Covid-19 pandemic. The film is deeply tied to Chicago as Karen is a teacher in Chicago Public Schools. The filmmaker behind the project, Karen's son Henry, has also grown up in Rogers Park and attended a CPS high school.

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Teacher across Chicago, just like Karen, are essential workers who went above and beyond to reach students however possible over the last two years. To learn more about Chicago educators and the incredible work they do, visit the Chicago Foundation for Education.

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Learn more about Henry Van Zytveld, and see more of his work, at https://www.hvzmedia.com/

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Henry Van Zytveld’s Teacher in the Window is about as personal a film as you can get these days, aiming to create a short film focused around his own mother, Karen Van Zytveld, a public school teacher at Galileo Scholastic Academy in Chicago (for clarity, “Van Zytveld” will refer to Henry from here on out). A peek back into the early days of the pandemic, when what seemed like a momentary two-week break from the world extended into our continuing crisis of COVID-19, Karen’s struggle to shift her in-person lesson plans to the digital realm mirrors many of our frustrations with renegotiating our relationships with our work, and the communities around us. Van Zytveld’s film can be tough to watch at moments, not only for its emotionally frustrating relationship with the struggle that teachers must go through to keep their students engaged virtually, but because it’s a struggle that’s so relatable to so many, as our lives were flung into a scenario none of us were ideally set up for. The tightrope act of trying to function in a world without instructions is a hopeless feeling that binds so many of us together. That grasping across the abyss, hoping to reach something on the other side. Karen finds it, every now and then, acting out scenes from “Hamlet” with her students, throwing herself into the work as effortlessly as she would in her actual classroom. Karen brings some outside guests into her virtual classroom, as a means of expanding her students horizons however one can in a virtual space, but Van Zytveld keeps the focus primarily on his mother, her shining presence in the window of her home, giving the outside world a reminder of the work that’s still going on in a “shut-down” society. Teacher in the Window ends on a precarious note, sitting within a moment that has long passed us, with teachers having already returned to classrooms for in-person learning, while the world still wanders its way through a seemingly never-ending pandemic that presents daily struggles for our finest educators. Karen sits in her window, wishing for a world that is long gone, but hopeful for what she can still bring to her students in the world ahead of us.

Ben Kaye  is a Chicago-based director, puppet-maker, musician, and culture critic, with his writing appearing in Newcity Stage, The Spool, and Looper.com. Ben is the host and creator of "Movie: The Musical!," a podcast about movies that have been turned into musicals. Alongside these various artistic pursuits, you can also find Ben working as the Guest Services Manager at Chicago Children's Theatre.