Part 5 in ‘Letters in a Pandemic’ series
A letter for teachers, professors, and school administrators.
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Once upon a time during my freshman year of college, I had a brief moment where I thought I’d try to train to be a teacher. I took a “Foundations of Education” course and a “Foundations of Teaching” course, both of which helped me quickly realize I, in fact, did not want to be a teacher. After shadowing several days of English Literature at a local school, I realized that perhaps my temperament was best suited elsewhere…somewhere that involved less patience, less persistence, less paperwork, less puberty. I am not trying to speak against the profession of teaching, but instead highlight how very noble, honorable, and gosh-darn hard being an educator really is.
Teachers play a million roles at once–you are an educator, empowerer, mediator, and an advocate. You are a cheerleader, encourager, counselor, a listening ear. You work long hours for not much pay, and often without much or any gratitude given in return from your colleagues or students. Your job was hard before this pandemic, and it sure as heck didn’t get any easier in the midst of it.
I think about my friend, Jack, a brilliant music teacher whose school year was canceled, which I imagine to be a disappointment and a difficult reality for him and others in his district. I think about my friend, Helen, who resides in Scotland and is serving as an instructor to the children of NHS workers who need people to care for and love their children as they continue their harrowing work. I think about my friend Mark, a special education teacher whose students lack the resources to be able to receive any online instruction at all.
Some of you are adapting to new modes and ways of educating. And some of you are grieving the loss of any opportunity to teach at all. Concerts have been canceled, projects left unfinished, and paperwork seems as futile as ever. Some students you miss terribly, others (perhaps with names like Danny or Chad) you admittedly do not miss much at all 😉 You wonder what’s going on at home and if all the progress you made will be counted as a loss with such circumstances as these cutting into the school year.
You have had to rewrite your curriculum, throw admirable and inspiring goals out the window. You have had to adapt to new policies, new procedures, new technologies that you didn’t want and didn’t ask for. You have kept up as best you can and shown up when you were asked even though sleep has evaded you and your patience is running thin.
To all the teachers out there, I clap for you, too. When your frustration numbs you, or anger rises without much warning, I hope you will remember that your emotions and feelings can tell you something. To me, they do not tell of your apathy or your ineptitude, but the very opposite. Despite the challenges that make your job hard to do or even do not allow you to do your job, you continue to do what you’ve always done: care. Caring is perhaps the biggest gift a teacher can give a student. Sure, caring about the material and content is inspiring. But caring about students as image bearers, as ones who you give your time and attention to even when it means personal risk, personal havoc, personal heartbreak? All I can do is clap.
So despite only being able to care from a distance, I have to believe that these days will not all be counted as a loss. One day, you will hear your chorus students sing again. One day, Danny and Chad will make fart noises in the back row of desks. One day, you will get to sit in a circle and talk about great books or perhaps facilitate a round of show-and-tell. Until then, we thank you for the role you play right now. You may be sitting this round out, or chaotically trying to make the best of it.
Either way, I clap for you, too.