Last week was national Teacher Appreciation Week. Usually, this means free lunches at school and restaurants offering free dinners, accolades on social media, gifts and hugs from our students, messages from former students. But not this year. This year, we are at home, away from our students and their soul-soaring hugs.
Since March, the Corona Virus Pandemic has caused schools to shut down and the academic work moved online. Schools and districts scrambled to move learning online. This move left teachers in a lurch. How do you teach your students if students do not have the technology at home? How do you teach when you have not heard from a student in 4 weeks? How do you teach when you are not sure a student is safe, has enough food, or has reliable internet?
Teachers are on the front line. We take the guidance from the local school district leaders and state and national legislatures and turn it into the magic that students and parents see. We hunt for resources that will engage and teach, while caring for student’s ability levels, individual learning needs, and social-emotional status. We spend time calling parents and listening to their concerns, cheering them on as they try to help their children learn. We spend time troubleshooting technology issues and finding technology platforms that are free and accessible.
Your teachers are tired. We are tired from learning new skills to teach our students from afar. We are tired from the 47 Zoom meetings with students, staff, professional learning groups, administrators, and our grade level or content teams. That was just on Monday. We are tired with worry for the students that we have not heard from since we sent students home without a final good-bye. We are tired from grief that we have not said good-bye to our students who leave us at the end of the year, or promote to a new school, or graduate from high school. We are tired with grief that we are not able to plan and participate in annual end of year activities that we look forward to every year. We are tired from worrying about students we have not heard from in weeks, despite phone calls, emails, and letters home.
Dear Church, we need your help. Please, help us.
Here are 4 concrete ways to help your teachers.
- Reach out to the teachers in your congregation. Ask us how we are doing – and listen as the words tumble out of our mouths. Acknowledge our feelings and validate them. We feel guilty that we are crying or exhausted, when there is so much to be done.
- Send notes to the teachers at your nearby school. Thank them for their tireless work, both in this time of pandemic and every day.
- Call your state legislators today and every day until schools in your state are fully funded. Ask them to fund student access to technology for learning at home. Ask them to fund living wages for school employees. Ask them to fund school repairs so that students can learn in safe schools when we are able to return to in-person learning.
- As a congregation, commit to understanding how the schools in your state are funded. This pandemic has revealed serious cracks in our education systems – how do we feed students when there is no school? How do students learn through online platforms if the district cannot afford to purchase the platforms and devices, or families cannot afford to pay for the internet? How are teachers compensated for the extra work or extra supplies needed to teach their students from home? What is the relationship between poverty, racism, and education? How can the church respond? Do you know who to reach out to in Louisville or in your presbytery to help your congregation answer these questions?
Rachael Eggebeen is a teacher in Tucson, Arizona as well as a member of the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy for the Presbyterian Church USA.