The first week of May is designated as Teacher Appreciation Week across the country. Pandemic or not, I feel we need to take the time to thank our children’s teachers despite all of the current distractions.
Recognizing teachers this week is more important than it has ever been.
Today, I received word that one of my undergraduate college professors passed away, and it made my heart heavy. He was one of many, many, teachers who challenged me to be better than I was and who taught me more than I think I ever realized until now. This news prompted me to take the time to reflect on my years at school. From kindergarten to graduate school, I easily lost count of how many teachers made a positive impact on me and what a crucial part they all played in my life.
When I was in graduate school, someone told me “Well, they can’t teach you everything in school, but they do teach you how to manage with what you have.” I feel like this statement is so poignant, especially right now.
It’s not just math, reading, writing, and science that you learn at school. You learn how to cope when things look grim, and you learn to rise to face challenges and accept them bravely. You don’t do this on your own. Teachers guide you through this learning process. Even if you don’t know it at the time, you can surely look back as an adult and see exactly why most of your teachers acted as they did.
I remember being an undergraduate communication disorders and sciences major taking my first methods of therapy class. One day, my professor gave us this scenario:
You need to do therapy with speech and language impaired children for an entire day, but you only have a pen as a therapy tool. You have no games, no picture cards, no other materials. Just a pen. How do you do it?
As you can imagine, panic was the first feeling to set in. However, slowly but surely, we worked in small groups and figured out many ways you could get through a half-hour speech and/or language therapy session with just a pen. You could hide the pen in different places and work on prepositions with a client as they answer questions about where the pen was hidden, work on parts of a whole by breaking down and labeling the parts of a pen, or give your client a pen and see if they could follow multi-step directions using it, to name just a few possible activities.
That day, my professor was teaching us not how to do therapy, but to how to survive a seemingly horrifying scenario and adapt to it with ease. That day, we learned a lot about flexibility in the midst of adversity.
Metaphorically, right now, the universe has given our teachers a pen and expects them to teach with it and little else.
It’s not that our teachers don’t have the Internet as a resource (and many of them will tell you they are thankful they do). However, the current situation has pulled them from their classrooms and all their familiar materials, not to mention out of their comfort zone. It’s an entirely new way to work. Teachers are forced to decide what curriculum targets to prioritize and focus on that will best serve their group of students as a whole. Kids all learn differently and accounting for that is next to impossible, but we must realize teachers are trying to benefit the greatest number of students they possibly can when making choices about how to teach your kids remotely.
As a result, teachers have been working as hard as ever to adjust to distance learning and figure out how to work with what they have.
There is no such thing as the correct way to teach in a crisis.
No matter how frustrated we are with encouraging our own children to complete their school work, we should realize how good it is that our children have work to try, even if some days schooling at home just isn’t working. Teachers are doing their best, just as everyone else is.
In addition, I know for a fact my teacher friends are feeling grief, as they are disconnected from the students they have come to care for so much. Everyone left school thinking all of us would be able to return two weeks later. By the following week, we knew the school year as we knew it was over. It happened quickly and no one had time to process it.
I am confident that all teachers feel very much like my second grader does, as even he says, “Mom, I like seeing my teacher and my friends on my iPad, but Zoom just isn’t the same as being AT school.”
The loss of in-person interaction between our children and their teachers impacts both parties emotionally. For almost three quarters of a year, our children have bonded with their teachers in the classroom. Gone are the high fives, the fist bumps, and the reassuring hugs I’d witness teachers giving their students each day as I walked through the school halls. I see how painful this is for my son, and I know it’s not any less painful for teachers.
Yet, they put their own feelings second, push through what they need to do to teach, and continually try to connect with their students in any way they can.
Within two to three weeks of school being out, my son’s school staff had made a ‘hello, we miss you!’ YouTube video that was shared via email to all families.
The week after that, they organized a car parade around town (that lasted over an hour and a half) so the kids could wave and see the smiling familiar faces of the teachers they’ve come to depend on.
Both of these gestures brought me to tears and I’m not sure I can express how much what they meant to my second grader and our family. The teachers didn’t have to do any of it, but they love their jobs and they love our community’s children, so they did.
How can we recognize their hard work this Teacher Appreciation Week?
Usually, the PTO at my son’s school goes all out and does lots of things for the teachers spread out over the entire month of May. They have organized special events such as luncheons, smoothie and coffee delivery to classrooms, and a teacher raffle.
This year, Teacher Appreciation Week will obviously look quite different.
Knowing the teachers I know, however, I think they’d all agree that a simple verbal ‘Thank you!’ or ‘I appreciate everything you do!’ would go a long way. Having your child draw a picture or write a note, even if all you can do is take a picture of it and email that picture to your child’s teacher, would also be a meaningful gesture.
Of course, if you’re really ambitious, I’m sure you can send a small gift card to your local bakery, coffee shop, or bookstore via email. Supporting local business AND teachers is a double win!
School buildings in Vermont have not been open since Saint Patrick’s Day. School in its very essence, however, has not ceased.
This Teacher Appreciation Week, I raise my glass to my former teachers, my former teacher colleagues, the teachers I’ve substitute taught for, my children’s teachers, and teachers everywhere. Thank you for all you do. I see you and I feel for you. Be safe and we truly miss you!