They Are Doing This For You
My two oldest children started distance learning in August. Consequently, I check on them daily. Last week, at one check in, my daughter was in Social Studies, and her teacher was speaking to his students. I paused to listen. He knows they are working hard, he said, but he urged them to acknowledge the even greater work load their teachers have to educate them in this less than favorable circumstance. Then, he told them that not doing their work, turning their camera on, or engaging in the lessons is downright disrespectful to the efforts these teachers are going to for the students. “They are doing this for you guys,” he told the kids. After he said that, I felt my throat seize, and I turned to walk out of her room. It’s time to give teachers the credit they deserve.
“How Are You Amidst All This?”
My daughter is in 8th grade and my son is in 5th. I have a 4-year-old at home, as well. I am close friends with a woman who teaches kindergarten and has a 4-year-old of her own. Another dear friend of mine teaches English to Sophomores, and is a mom to three children, ages 8, 5, and 1. My daughter’s best friend is a daughter to two educators, and they have a son in high school, too. Personally, I am connected to teachers by more than one thread.
The week before distance learning commenced, I received a phone call from my son’s crew teacher to schedule his social distanced orientation. Toward the end of our discussion, I asked her, simply “how are you doing amidst all of this?” Her shock at my query was palpable. She said my question was so thoughtful. And her answer came with tentative vulnerability. She thanked me for asking. She noted again how incredibly thoughtful my question had been. When we got off the phone, I stood there, dumbfounded. I could not believe that simple question had been worthy of such shock and appreciation. My heart ached inside my chest for these human beings everyone is just expecting to be okay.
We are now six weeks into online school. Therefore, my children spend their days learning on their computers by watching and listening to their teachers presenting on Google Classroom. Meanwhile, they can see the other kids in their classes on little square screens, like the Brady Bunch. Schoology is the hub of all assignments and grades, while Gmail is the platform for written communication between the district, school, teachers, and my children. To say the least, keeping track of all of this alongside my two kids is a full-time job.
It Takes A Village
My children are hard workers. Because of this, they care about completing their assignments. Above all, they know the standards for accountability in our household are high. At the same time, I know that for my 5th grader especially, I must pay attention. I help him stay organized so he does not forget to start (and finish) his work. It’s a lot to ask of a 10-year-old (really anyone under 17) to stay on top of their responsibilities in the distance learning climate. If this is the reality in my household, then what might it look like in homes with working guardians or parents, unable to monitor their child’s day? Who is checking in on these kids when their parents cannot?
“Because after all, teachers don’t really believe there’s any such thing as ‘someone else’s child’. They just make themselves part of the village and care for them all.”
The People Who Always Have
Well, the people who always have. Teachers. When necessary, they are asking students who are on task to leave google meets so that they can address students who are behind, and attempt to connect with them and dial them in. My son had to leave a meet just this past week. When I went into his room, he was watching a YouTube video on turtles. I asked him why he wasn’t in class. He said, “I can’t go back in yet. She’s talking to the kids who aren’t doing their work, I have to wait.”
Bless that teacher, I thought. She’s a mom too, by the way. Her daughter is just a baby, and goes to daycare at the elementary school. And there she is, investing time into someone else’s child, because after all, teachers don’t really believe there’s any such thing as ‘someone else’s child’. They just make themselves part of the village and care for them all.
Encouraging Class Engagement
My son was in Language Arts a couple weeks ago, and the teacher was working to engage the students in a discussion about basic human rights. While she spoke, she asked for feedback. For instance, could the kids give an example of what human rights were being threatened? In response, my son said to me, “the lack of clean drinking water for the people in Africa. That’s a basic human right.” As he said this, I was watching his teacher’s face on the screen. And I could tell she was desperate for someone, anyone, to say something. Help her feel less like she was speaking to a brick wall. Please, help her feel like showing up daily with countless hours of work and likely as many of lost sleep under her belt, is worth it.
I told my son: “Turn your microphone on and say that. Engage. Throw her a bone! She’s working so hard for you and your classmates, work hard for her, too.” So, he unmuted himself and answered her question. As a result, I watched as her face lit up. She complimented him for his feedback. She said she loved how he was thinking about people who aren’t even in our country; because it can be easy to only think of those who live on our own soil. She appreciated that he thought outside of that box.
Once again, my throat seized. I pat my son on the back and left the room, barely holding it together. No matter how many times I see evidence of this passion, commitment, and stuff of straight up warriors, I continue to become emotional.
Teachers Are Essential Workers
Teachers, you are essential workers. Tragically, there’s a theme in this country that undervalues, underpays, and underappreciates you. You are being asked to do your job as efficiently as ever…without actually being given the appropriate time and resources to do so. Your lesson plans get blown up by a grenade weekly, perhaps daily. Meetings with administration demand more screen time from you, leaving less time for yourself and your family. Not to mention, you’re continuing to self-supplement materials, using personal money from your reduced paycheck to provide tools for your students.
“I can’t begin to know the unique mountains you’re all climbing. And yet: you keep showing up.”
You have less time to teach, but more teaching is required of you. You feel like a TV show that no one is watching sometimes, and headaches have become a new norm. The unknowns continue to compile. Surveys are sent, compelling you to take precious moments to fill them out, praying you’ll be listened to.
You’re trying to separate work from home, but the way they meld together these days makes it next to impossible. You do everything you can to keep your own children on track, whichever track they are on. By the same token, what happened to date night? As a result of all the above, keeping the house tidy may have fallen to the bottom of the list. The challenges I’ve taken the liberty to list here hardly scratch the surface…I can’t begin to know the unique mountains you’re all climbing. AND YET: YOU KEEP SHOWING UP.
Every day, you go to school. Whether that means you open your laptop and turn your camera on or you show up to a building wearing your mask, you are there, a smile on your face, and in your eyes, ready to greet the thousands of waiting faces, trusting you to guide them through their days. Some of them smile back at you, and follow directions, complete their work, and ask questions and comment. Others, though, are distant. They don’t look happy, they shirk the work assigned to them, and they are failing despite your best efforts to lift them up. As disheartened as you may become, desperately wanting to reach each student and meet them where they are, you do not quit.
I know I am not alone when I say THANK YOU. Your quiet determination and consistent commitment to the important work of stewarding our children humbles me, as a mother, and overwhelms me with gratitude. The humanity I see in you when I peek over my children’s shoulders is captivating. Regardless of what is happening in your personal lives, you stay focused on the task at hand. The show must go on. And it does, because you are the show runners.
In a worldwide pandemic that has thrust us all into territory we’ve never even imagined walking through, tensions are tight. Consequently, stress is heavy, and there is no playbook. Take a look around. No one really has a clue what they are doing. Because of this, my husband likes to say “everyone needs to stop saying we are ‘navigating’ through this thing. ‘Navigating’ implies you actually have a course charted. Let’s call it what it is. We are stumbling through this, that’s the truth.” The number of times we all have to pivot within a 24-hour day is astounding, and to pivot while juggling 60+ student educations in the air, well, that’s some kind of magic. In fact, we should just start calling teachers magicians, because I have no idea how they are pulling off what they are doing, but boy, am I enchanted.
For some perks from places who want to give credit where credit is due, I am including a couple links. A personal fashion favorite of mine, Madewell offers 15% off to teachers online and in stores. Verizon wants to give back to those who give so much to others by offering discounted unlimited plans. And, for supplies and crafts galore, check out Michaels for a 15% markdown on your list. If none of these options appeal to you, go to Google and search “teacher discounts” to find more!