The closure of schools during the pandemic has had one unexpected consequence: a new realization that teachers have special skills, do important work and are doing their best to make sure children get the education they need even when classrooms are shut down.
We talk a lot about the home-school partnership. Now we see it in action, as parents take charge of daily activities for stay-at-home students, including monitoring student learning, while teachers are hard at work to figure out how best to get meaningful instruction to the homes.
The school closings came at a critical time in the school year. The last quarter is important: that’s when teachers bring together all the disparate elements of the year’s studies. It’s a time when careful questioning is needed to gauge each student’s comprehension. It is the last effort to cement the concepts needed for a successful transition to the next grade.
For teachers as well as students, school closing means an enormous adjustment. One teacher wrote to me describing the huge learning shift she is experiencing as she adjusts her carefully constructed curriculum for delivery to homes via technology. She knows, too, that this sudden shift to technology-based learning finds uneven access within and across districts. Some districts are prepared; others will struggle.
For most classroom teachers, this is new territory. They are being asked to build and deliver an entirely new way of instruction. They know this will not duplicate or replace the personal connections they have forged with their students throughout the school year.
They also know there are limits to technology’s capacity to meet individual student needs. A computer does not replace a skilled teacher (and no one goes back years later to thank a machine for changing their lives for the better). Still, with a choice between no teaching and new, technology-based teaching, teachers throughout Idaho are using the tools at hand to give students a year’s worth of education.
Beyond academic concerns, teachers are also aware that a sizeable percentage of students find a school to be the safest part of their lives, where warmth, food, acceptance, and success lie just across the threshold each day. These children long for a return to the comfort of their schools, their classrooms, and their teachers. Schools are making extraordinary efforts to ensure that sure hungry children are fed and stay-at-home children are taught.
Teachers here in Idaho and other states are part of a profession that has not been a rewarding one for the past couple of decades. The introduction of over-testing, the setting of unrealistic growth targets, the punitive measures when not all targets were met, the budget cuts never fully restored after the last recession, and a general devaluing of the teaching profession have contributed to teachers’ sense of sadness. Fewer and fewer young people are choosing to prepare for teaching careers.
Then came the pandemic and children stayed home. Suddenly there is a new awareness of the thoughtful, skilled work that teachers do. News reports and social media tell of the gratitude parents and others feel for these educators who did not take school closures to mean that their work was done, but rather as a challenge to see their work go on in new and creative ways.
It’s clear there is a new respect and appreciation for all the workers who provide services we now recognize as essential: for the paramedics and firefighters, the nurses, the physicians, and, yes, for our teachers. I take every opportunity to thank teachers for the work they do. I hope you will, too.