“Beyond the Bell:” Evelyn Lauer’s Pandemic Inspired Podcast

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Podcast cover for “Beyond the Bell” hosted by Evelyn Lauer.

By Gloria Kosir, Features Editor

It’s been over a year since we marked the beginning of our Coronavirus (COVID-19) lockdown, and in that time many dipped into the creative side of their minds and did lots of self-reflecting. One of those individuals includes Niles West English teacher Evelyn Lauer, who explored and started a new hobby – a podcast! Lauer had the idea of a podcast in the back of her mind for several months, but the perfect idea came to her. In October of 2020, Lauer’s podcast “Beyond the Bell” launched on major streaming services like Spotify, Apple Music, and Google Podcasts.

The podcast features conversations between Lauer and teachers across the country. The conversations are centered around teaching during the COVID-19 pandemic and the struggles and changes that teachers have faced.

As teachers, we see the school experience through our own educational experiences, but also through our professional experiences and the experiences of the thousands of students we have taught throughout our careers. This podcast lets people see that teaching isn’t a monolithic experience, nor should it be. I’m thankful for her podcast for shedding light on the many different facets of teaching, and especially during this very odd and challenging school year.”

— Wileen Hsing

“In April [of 2020] when we were totally on lockdown and couldn’t do very much, we were teaching remotely. My escape was just to take walks, and when I walk, I listen to podcasts,” Lauer said. “I’m in my 20th year of teaching, and I never would have imagined that I would be teaching at home via Zoom for a full year.”

So far, Lauer has hosted two Niles West teachers: Chinese teacher Wileen Hsing and Director of Bands Justin Johnson. Their episodes were a part of seasons one and two, respectively.

“It was fun to be on Ms. Lauer’s podcast, especially since we have been friends and colleagues for 20 years. We were hired the same year (and in the same department) at Niles West, so it was easy to chat with her. We could’ve talked for much longer, I’m sure,” Hsing said. “I think her podcast is important right now because teachers and schools have been under such strong criticism from everyone.”

Lauer has included a variety of teachers that range in Covid-teaching styles, grades, and subjects. One of her more recent episodes features Niles North business teacher Nicholas Pahl. The episode description reads that the two “discuss the pros and cons of teaching team/project-based courses during remote and hybrid learning.”

“I admire Ms. Lauer’s courage to create something original and put it out there for the world to hear. We need more of that and I was excited to have the opportunity to be a part of it,” Pahl said.

“Beyond the Bell” was featured in the New York Times Education Briefing back in January of 2021. The recognition of Lauer’s podcast hasn’t come without any challenges. Lauer aims to air a new episode each week, but such a tight schedule can make it difficult to find new guests. However, Lauer’s experience in journalism has come to her assistance with this project.

“The timeliness piece is very important to me … as a trained journalist,” Lauer said. During the weather crisis in Texas, Lauer scrapped her original plan for that week and reached out to educators down there, airing the episode titled “Leland Mallet and Rebecca Pollard” because of its relevancy and newsworthiness.

Each episode begins with the guest anecdotally explaining their experience with remote teaching and how their school has been handling the pandemic. After that, Lauer just lets the conversation flow, but ends with the question, “What’s keeping you sane?” The relaxed and natural conversations create an interesting and informative piece of media.

Lauer’s podcast is a wonderful reminder of the hardships and great efforts that teachers work towards during these times. Take a bit of time out of your day and listen to things from your teachers’ perspectives.