America’s educators are teaching all of us how to make our way in this world of uncertainty that has been wrought by the pandemic and the crumbling economy that was caused by the virus.
They are dedicated not just to our children’s educations, but also to their well-being, their happiness and even their very survival.
“Let’s start with some empathy, which can transcend into love,” said Tarence Wheeler, who’s the Director of Corporate and Community Affairs in River Rouge Schools just outside Detroit. “It is not enough for us to like these kids. You’ve got to love them past a bad grade. You’ve got to love them past a disappointment in behavior. That kid needs some consistency to know that this adult is not going to fail me like other adults have failed me.”
And that’s especially true now, in the midst of the social isolation created by Covid-19. “If a kid can’t eat or if a kid doesn’t have housing or what if both their parents have lost a job right now,” said Candace Printz, who works in art education in El Paso schools. “Those are the basics before kids can absorb anything else.”
Candace and Tarence participated in a TeacherTalk panel recently that was organized by LifeChanger of the Year, National Life’s educator recognition program. We wanted to hear from teachers about their experiences with remote learning through the end of last school year and how they are trying to prepare for the possibility of that being extended into the new school year.
What we discovered – well, rediscovered what we’ve long known, actually – is that they are filled with compassion and care and drive and devotion.
From Michigan to Texas, Kansas to Georgia, teachers have worked long and hard to make sure that their students have missed nothing just because they have not been physically in a school building.
“No matter what comes our way, where we’re at all across the country, we have to remind ourselves that our lessons, our activities, our phone calls, our office hours, whatever we do, I think we’ll all survive and do better, all of us, if we just remember that it’s about the kids,” said Keil Hileman, a social studies teacher in Shawnee, Kansas. “It’s not about state assessments or what’s easier for us or better for the building schedule. It’s about our students. And no matter what happens, we’ve just got to keep coming back to that.”
And to be student-centered, teachers have to look out for themselves and each other so they’re available for the students.
“If you could think of yourself as your phone, as soon as your battery got to 50 percent, you’d be looking for a charger,” said Eric Crouch, a fifth-grade teacher in Columbus, Georgia. “And if you didn’t look for it, you’d know where it is because you’d be getting plugged back in. And I think a lot of us, when we lost the human connection, realized just how much that charged our batteries, to get back up and going. I can’t help but think about our kids in the same way.”
The students, he said, need the structure and the connection that school provides to them. Candy said she thinks a lot about that and how to incorporate it into whatever school looks like in the fall.
“Students learn a great deal more from community than they do from just textbooks or handouts,” she said. “Students are going to learn from each other, they’re going to learn from that teacher that’s that model for them during that time. And we’ve kind of stripped that away from how we’re teaching right now. We’re all trying to figure it out right now.”
But they are figuring it out, improvising and creating and collaborating every day, especially now that school is out of session and they can take some time to come up with new approaches.
“Maybe our classes don’t have to work in the structure of the traditional school,” Eric said. “Maybe there’s an opportunity to do that project work with another art teacher in a neighboring district or a neighboring state. Maybe this is the opportunity to go on a virtual field trip to somewhere that maybe our kids wouldn’t be able to go on, anyway.”
Just as important in this new equation of distance learning is what’s happening where the students are now, at home. Parents have to be part of the lesson plan.
“A lot of parents just felt like they got left behind,” Keil said. “They suddenly have children at home and they don’t know what to do. So we had a couple of parents start Zoom sessions for parents with teachers to talk about things you can do to help your kids.”
Unfortunately, there are too many children and families who can’t connect digitally. They may not have the resources or connections to be able to attend school on a computer or some other device. Or they may not have the family structure that helps ensure that they show up for school remotely.
“There is an appetite for you to connect world wide when we have kids that can’t connect locally,” Tarence said. “The most important thing we have to do is to have adults in front of young people. The ones that love them , the ones that want to see them cross the finish line.”
So teachers have to continue doing what they’ve always done, these teachers say. They have to look out for the kids. They have to show them that adults are humans, too, with faults who sometimes make mistakes. They have to listen and learn themselves. They sometimes need to go out in the community and check on the welfare of the children that they have missed so desperately during these last few months.
Despite the obstacles and the challenges, though, these teachers are hopeful for the future.
“I think now more than ever people appreciate who’s in front of their child because when you, the parent, had to take on that role unknowingly, you were like, ‘It’s not me. My role is maybe dad, but it’s not my daughter’s teacher.’”
Thank goodness all of our daughters’ and sons’ teachers are devoted to our children.
If you missed this webinar session you can still view it here.