This past week, we celebrated National Teacher Appreciation Week. It is more important than ever that we thank our teachers for continuing to provide our students with an innovative and rewarding educational experience while navigating teaching through the dual pandemic of COVID-19 and systemic racism.
This school year has been, by far, one of the most turbulent years for those in the teaching profession. Almost overnight, teachers had to reimagine what teaching and learning would look like in a virtual environment. At the same time, they had to suddenly learn new technologies, find creative ways to engage with students and keep communication lines open with families. I have seen Alexandria City Public Schools teachers serve as lifelines for students for far more than schoolwork. Let us give teachers a virtual high-five and let them know we appreciate them.
We all know that teaching does not end at the classroom door, and this year teachers continue to be involved after students log out of the Zoom class or leave their classroom in the hybrid model. Some teachers report that their email has quadrupled.
They also experience more emotional stress worrying about our students’ social-emotional well-being, language barriers between teachers and families and the increased food insecurity among our families. An October 2020 teachforamerica.org article, “Tackling COVID-19 Fatigue as a Teacher,” describes a situation similar to what healthcare workers face:
“Teachers can experience it too because of their emotional connection to and concern for their students. By definition, a good teacher is one that cares about their students. With more and more students feeling vulnerable, teachers are being exposed to more of their struggles.”
Together, we need to recognize how much teachers give, and understand how they are faring under these circumstances.
This past year our teachers have had to be more creative in solving problems, and I have seen so many teachers rise to the challenge. A kindergarten teacher recently shared how hard it has been to only see and communicate with her students through a computer.
When some students came back into the classroom in the hybrid model, it was an awkward moment when they were excited to see their teacher for the first time in person, but had to stay socially distanced. While they were at grade-level academically, they struggled with communication and social skills with their peers.
This teacher re-created her lesson plans to find ways to emphasize interactive learning and peer engagement for all students, both in virtual learning and in-person, while maintaining social distancing. This proactive approach is representative of the many ways teachers are being innovative to meet our students’ needs.
ACPS teachers have also gone above and beyond in their efforts to help students who they worry might fall behind or have a hard time staying connected. Some students experienced personal hardships that were not allowing them to attend virtual classes. One example of going above and beyond for our students is a new program launched this past year to assist high school students who had to work full time supporting their families as a result of family members experiencing job losses or cutbacks.
Teachers and administrators spent hours on the phone locating these students and following up with them. In response to challenges they saw, they launched a virtual night school program for students holding full-time jobs during the day. Many of these teachers volunteer their time to help our students in this program after having completed a full day of teaching.
This year has tested the strength and resilience of all frontline workers, including educators who put their hearts into doing their best for our students. We see what they are doing and the positive impact they are having. While National Teacher Appreciation Week has ended, I hope you will join me in recognizing the incredible work our teachers do day in and day out. Please #ThankATeacher.
The writer is superintendent of Alexandria City Public Schools.