By Ed Pierce
In my estimation, the real unsung heroes of the pandemic remained true to their purpose and kept the process of learning for children going as challenge after challenge was thrown at them. Yes, I’m taking the time to show my appreciation for schoolteachers, who stepped up and did the best they could during this school year despite enormous obstacles and a lack of normalcy in all of our daily lives.
A disclaimer up front: I’ve been married to an elementary school teacher for 17 years and can bear witness to the endless stacks of papers to correct, lessons to plan, grades to enter, anecdotal records to keep and having to balance all of that while dealing with actual classroom instruction, mandates from school administrators and making sure that parents are kept up to date on their child’s progress or difficulties grasping a subject being taught.
The uncertainty that parents felt about the hybrid approach to education was well warranted, with kids not being in the classroom and with the teacher five days a week posed significant impediments. When I was in elementary school, even in the classroom I had to concentrate and pay attention tuning out many different distractions, so I can’t imagine how tough it must have been all year for many teachers to keep students engaged in their schoolwork while they were remotely learning on Zoom at home.
The pandemic also threw a monkey wrench into some of education’s most cherished schedules and customs. At my wife’s school, students could not gather for meals in the cafeteria. That meant that students who were eating cafeteria food had it delivered directly to their classrooms and the children ate at their desks.
Any parent will tell you that meals can be a bit messy. At one school, the teachers had to disinfect student desks after each meal and mop the classroom floor after school had let out for the day. It was not easy to remove sticky maple syrup gobs, dropped taco meat, spilled chocolate milk and salad shreds that had been ground into the floor and left there throughout the day.
And when students were in the classroom, teachers had to make sure that the younger students wore their masks properly and didn’t try to use them as a Kleenex or a candy lozenge.
Teachers became masters of sizing up social distancing situations, arranging student desks to meet CDC guidelines and monitoring recess to ensure that children were keeping appropriate space from each other while playing outdoors.
Some schools continued in-person instruction all year and that led to hybrid instruction when parents chose to keep their children home because of the pandemic but wanted them to participate remotely. That meant that teachers gave lessons not only in front of students attending in-person, but they were also at the same time teaching students online. The logistics of setting that up is staggering, to say the least, and crafting a lesson to give in-person may not always connect with someone receiving an image on their laptop miles away.
Much has been said about the level of stress we all endured during the pandemic, but for teachers, their level of exhaustion and workloads grew exponentially in the last year.
Teachers had to learn to become masters of overcoming technological issues for both their own equipment and those of their students; they acted as de facto school guidance counselors; school custodians; disc jockeys leading Zoom classroom discussions and then audience members for Zoom teacher and curriculum meetings; they were cheerleaders for their students and parents; and had to adjust on the fly to new methods of connection and engagement with their students.
Each day teachers also stood on the front lines in their classrooms and vigilantly watched for possible symptoms among their students to help protect spreading the virus to others. They never knew from day to day who might have to quarantine from exposure or who had been diagnosed. That meant even more work as lessons and work for students in quarantine had to be prepared, sometimes overnight or at the last minute.
In shattering system protocols and established norms for education during the pandemic, above all else teachers remained problem solvers and champions for children while giving essential lessons to young minds experiencing new concepts and new ideas. They served as strong mentors helping kids learn to read, do math and understand the world around us.
They worked cooperatively with students, parents, school administrators and other teachers and educational professionals to create new routines, avenues of communication and discipline that allowed children to feel as normal as possible during one of the most unusual and challenging times in history.
Our teachers deserve our admiration and respect after they weathered the storm that was the past school year. Their innovative efforts, diligence and dedication are admirable and will inspire generations well into the future. <