Several teacher friends of mine have posted rants on Facebook recently. A couple of them had to do with their frustration at being asked to accommodate contradicting requests, like being asked to adhere to detailed health guidelines while simultaneously making sure every student, whether in person or joining their classroom virtually, receives adequate instruction. A couple of the rants had to do with frustrations with parents who were already sending emails complaining that said teacher was failing to meet whatever arbitrary standard the parent had decided to apply. One friend didn’t respond quickly enough to an email, and one got an earful from a parent who had some general gripe about the state of education but for some reason decided to direct it at this one single teacher.
Unbelievably – or perhaps this is exactly what we should expect given *gestures vaguely at everything* – these teacher friends of mine are being attacked before school has even started.
I have an idea. How about we collectively agree not to attack teachers? In fact, let’s resolve to do the exact opposite of this. Let’s give teachers like 82 million miles of grace. Let’s make sure they know we appreciate them and are here to support them in any way we can. Let’s not criticize their every move.
Can we please make that pact right now?
Have you ever tried to run an interactive Zoom meeting with a large group? Now imagine doing that while also presenting to 16 people in person at the same time. And three of them have to pee “really bad” and one can’t find their mask, can you look for it for them?
And, we know teachers don’t make policy, right? All these rules everyone is asking them to follow, they didn’t make them. Some of them had barely any say at all. Some had none. Their unions barely protect them. They sure as hell aren’t paid enough.
Even before the pandemic hit, we expected teachers to do far more than what their job entails. Teachers at my children’s school direct traffic during morning dropoff and afternoon pickup, they monitor the lunchroom, they show up at weekend fundraisers, they respond to emails at night, and once when a teacher had a particularly pressing concern for my son, she called from her personal cell phone.
Those early years when we were trying to work out my son’s 504 plan in conjunction with his ADHD diagnosis made school very challenging. No, not every teacher we have had has been perfect, but I would never expect them to be. They can’t be a perfect teacher any more than I can be a perfect mother. Still, what I have witnessed in almost every teacher who has worked with my children—especially my child with ADHD—is an almost superhuman dedication to their work. This despite being paid at a level that taxpayers and policymakers in the education sector ought to be ashamed of.
Teachers are heroes on an ordinary day. Now, with the pandemic, teachers are being asked to do more than ever before, to risk their own health and the health of their families. I know of a couple of teachers who have had to retire early because their health or the health of a loved one didn’t permit them to sacrifice in this way.
My son’s science teacher, arguably his favorite teacher he’s ever had, was forced to retire because he couldn’t risk bringing home COVID-19 to his wife who has been battling illness for years. Every kid who has ever had this teacher loved him. I remember showing up one day at 9:00 PM to pick up my son from school after he stayed late working on his science fair project. There were at least 30 other kids from the science program there, and Mr. R. was there too, like always, living and breathing science fair in a program he created that turns science-likers into science-lovers. Even though he couldn’t stay and continue to teach, I will always consider Mr. R. a hero.
Regardless of what any parent’s plans are for educating their children as we return to school this fall, I want to make sure that we parents are doing everything we can to uplift teachers. I’ve seen a few comments saying that essential workers have been working this time and teachers just need to “suck it up.” Comments like this ignore the fact that teachers were already stretched much, much too thin, and the burdens we now lay on their shoulders are more than most of us could handle, essential workers or not. So maybe instead of cutting teachers down, we should be lifting them up.
We need to be forgiving when it feels like a teacher is not getting back to us in a timely manner or when we feel they’re not updating whatever portal quickly enough. We need to teach our children that they must be on their absolute best behavior to support their teachers who are working so hard to educate them. Whether our kids are wearing a mask and learning in a school building, joining class via a remote feed, or schooling online, let’s make sure every teacher knows they are appreciated and supported and loved.
We are all tired. This pandemic has not been easy on anyone. I know some of us parents who are working full-time from home and dreading monitoring our children’s education on top of everything else might find it hard to have patience at times. Essential workers with children who need to go back to school are under similar duress. Even those of us in the best circumstances are experiencing stressors we’ve never had to deal with before.
But let’s make a pact right now to remember that the profession of teaching is one of the most difficult professions there is. On a regular day, teachers are heroes. During a pandemic, it is incumbent upon us to make absolutely certain they know we appreciate that heroism.
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