“If you are planning for a year, sow rice; if you are planning for a decade, plant trees; if you are planning for a lifetime, educate people.”– Chinese Proverb
“Thank you, Teachers,” the sign read on the side of the road.
Wait, what? I couldn’t help but think. Really? It took a global pandemic to inspire appreciation for educators. Hmm . . .
I suppose that is how those who work in the medical field and first responders feel. After all, like educators, those drawn to and working in the healthcare industry, by and large, have always been effective, efficient, and caring individuals. Naturally, praise was given to medical providers from the very beginning of the pandemic–and rightly so! They were putting their own lives on the line while attempting to quell the flames of a ravaging wildfire sparked by a virus for which there was a dearth of knowledge. Story after story would reveal the suffering and agony of the front line caregivers and their patients. My heart, as well as those in my field, ached for those professionals, and we felt grateful for their long suffering service. And yet, there was one question that continually niggled my mind . . .
“Teaching is the one profession that creates all other professions.”– Unknown
Who were the early influencers of these various professionals that make up the health field? Who taught them to read, write, and think mathematically? Who helped to shape and foster their curiosity, their work ethic, and their quest for knowledge and understanding? To be certain, parents are the first, most important, and long-lasting teacher in any child’s life. Additionally, there are often other relatives that influence and impress a child, but guess who often spends more time with a child day-in and day-out? Teachers.
“It takes a big heart to help shape little minds.”– Unknown
This past March (2020), many teachers across the country, as well as at a local level, were told on a Friday to get their students ready. Educators directed students to pack up all of their personal belongings, textbooks, notebooks, personal implements, and any other necessary supplies. Furthermore, on this same fateful day, schools–like the one in which I work–who were fortunate enough to have the resources, also directed teachers to quickly allocate technological resources to students who thought they might need one at home. Those districts without these assets were rapidly scrambling for funds in order to likewise provide technology for students.
Once students were sent home with their overburdened school bags, teachers were likewise told to quickly gather what they thought they would need to teach from home. Additionally, teachers were swiftly conferring with one another and administrators as to the types of resources available throughout the school that could be used to make teaching from home work. Cobbling together this and that, gathering our own bags of wares, like ants marching in a line towards their hill mount, teachers exited the school on that pivotal Friday with the understanding that we were to be up and running as an online educator by Monday. Like a boulder plummeting onto US Rt 52, the dramatic educational paradigm shift had begun. It was time to put on our proverbial hard hats and head into the construction zone.
“Teaching is the greatest act of optimism.”– Colleen Wilcox
News, gossip, and directives swirled around like flaming ash from a distant brush fire. The heat of how to get virtual school up and running amidst worry about safety, closings, quarantines, supply shortages, deaths, headlines, and the never ending chain of one email after another compounded to the ever-building fear, anxiety, and sense of uncertainty. One thing was clear, however, teachers would be there for our students and for one another–no virus was going to stop us.
By the time Monday rolled around, teachers had students enrolled in virtual classrooms–our school used Google products, but other platforms abounded in other school districts. We communicated to students through the virtual classroom and through virtual meetings. The technology was imperfect and full of glitches and hiccups, but students and teachers forged through each and every challenge thrown our way. In a way, educators were pupils once more, learning right along with our students, relying on part innovation, part intuition, and a whole lot give and take via virtual forms of communication.
“The art of teaching is the art of assisting discovery.”– Mark Van Doren
Together, with our colleagues and our students, educators made many new discoveries about technology and pedagogy as well as how to tap into our creativity. We had meetings with one another in which mutual tears were shed for the loss of “how it used to be,” but more often, the focus and concern was for students’ well-beings and how to best provide for their needs–both educationally and psychologically. Additionally, there were a multitude of professional development virtual meetings in which we listened intently, scrawled notes, typed our questions in chat boxes, and discussed with one another in virtual breakout rooms.
This is not to say that they weren’t frustrations, nor am I trying to imply it was a perfect, seamless transition of rainbows, butterflies, and magical, mythical unicorns. It was not. Students would not show up to class meets or not complete their work. Administrators asked for a multitude of documented records, such as, individual missing student work, student needs, staff needs, ideas for improvement and future planning–spreadsheet after spreadsheet and list upon list. Towards the end of April, there were so many lists, spreadsheets, and schedules that it was easy to overlook one or another, and I certainly had my fair share of oversights. However, I wasn’t the only one, and the compounded effect sometimes led to flared tempers, quiet resentment, or virtual words of implications–albeit, never for long.
Plus, there was the learning curve. Educators were continually encouraged to be flexible and foster an attitude of expansive and forward thinking. For those teachers possessing a technologically nimble mindset, this was a Montessori school of experience, full of opportunities to explore, expand, and engage. For those of us with less technological deftness, it was like being asked to wake up each day and start walking in the opposite direction of fast and furious freeway traffic, leaving our brains often feeling short-circuited as our work day grew longer and longer. However, regardless of which side of the technology tree one fell, a new phrase emerged from this experience, “COVID taught me this,” and together with our educational peers across the country, we emerged stronger and more resilient.
“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”– Nelson Mandela
Educators are persistent, tenacious, kindhearted individuals who spend their own money, their own time, and give freely of their own hearts to students each and every day. We did this before the pandemic, we are continuing this now, and we will likewise do this after the reign of COVID. Teachers matter, with or without COVID–just as those in the health professions matter.
Recently, I overheard a confident middle school student reporting to a peer that women tend to choose low-value degrees, like teaching.
“They choose not to make money,” he exclaimed, “because they don’t want to do the hard stuff like be a doctor or lawyer.”
I am not sure where or how he came to this conclusion, and perhaps he will always feel that way about my chosen profession. Regardless of his sentiment, I, along with my colleagues (and my husband–who also happens to be an educator), will continue to work to educate him along with his peers–no matter what life throws our way, in spite of our so-called, “low value” degrees. This is because we know the truth, and now it appears, based upon that sign alongside the state route, the word is spreading.