Our View: Those who can do, teach

Our View: Those who can do, teach
T.C. Williams High School. (Photo/Cody Mello-Klein)

June is here and with it comes the end of the first full pandemic-era school year.

Like seemingly everything during the pandemic, the 2020-2021 school year was a high stress, challenging time for parents, students and teachers alike. Alexandria City Public Schools transitioned to in-person education at a pace that was too slow for some and too fast for others. It has been a contentious school year, to say the least, and with ACPS remaining virtual for most students this summer, parents have already raised some concerns.

Of course, ACPS’ decision to remain virtual for the majority of students this summer is predicated on limited staffing, the end result of a year that has pushed our teachers to their limits. The school district cannot require teachers to take part in summer learning, since the summer months fall outside of teachers’ contract time. ACPS can only provide incentives, such as the $500 bi-weekly bonus it’s currently offering licensed teachers and instructional support staff.

So, for parents that believed ACPS would return to four day per week in-person summer learning, we understand your disappointment. At the same time, we understand why teachers would not necessarily want to return to school this summer after such an intense year.

The 2020-2021 school year is a reminder of how invaluable our teachers have been not only during the pandemic but before it as well.

Alexandria teachers have shown their creativity, resolve and seemingly endless passion for students at a time when all three of those qualities have been tested.

Parents have been right to point out the challenges involved with virtual education – the learning loss, constant distractions and difficulty ensuring students are engaged. Those challenges are clear and abundant, but our teachers, in both ACPS and local private schools, have worked tirelessly to find ingenious solutions.

Most of us are familiar with the saying “Those who can’t do, teach,” but those words could not be less accurate.

By all accounts, teachers have put in more time and invested more energy this year. Teaching is a challenging profession at the best of times. But in the last year, teachers have been forced to adapt all their tools and tricks online in an attempt to meet the needs of students who have diverse learning needs and who are in vastly different home environments.

When their students had to turn to full-time work to support their families during the pandemic, teachers at T.C. Williams High School helped create a night school program for students who are learning English. At George Mason Elementary School, music teacher Heather Rosner, who appeared on the Times’ podcast Speak Easy, recruited the siblings of her current students to assist with setting up instruments and practicing music.

Meanwhile, at Matthew Maury Elementary School, teachers turned a local hot button issue – the renaming of both Matthew Maury and T.C. Williams – into a history lesson. Teachers and administrators crafted a lesson on the history of Maury, a Confederate naval officer, and why the school’s name was now being reconsidered.

Prior to the pandemic, these programs and solutions would have been welcome additions to any learning environment. To not only conceive of but execute these kinds of creative and necessary lessons during such a challenging time is worthy of praise.

Whether they stayed up late to help the city’s young English learners or wrangled a virtual classroom of 20 music students, Alexandria teachers have poured their blood, sweat and tears into our schools. It’s no wonder that, after what has been an emotionally, physically and psychologically draining school year, some teachers would rather take the summer off – while others would rather leave the district or the profession altogether.

ACPS staff confirmed during the May 20 School Board meeting that 128 teachers have left ACPS during the 2020-2021 school year. We wish these teachers the best in whatever they end up doing next.

And to the teachers that will remain with ACPS, we thank you. We know it hasn’t been easy – even before the pandemic, this job never was – but the commitment, ingenuity and enthusiasm you have shown even at the darkest of times has been truly inspiring.

Clearly, those who can do, teach.