The last few weeks have proven to society something that we, in education, already know. Teachers care deeply about their students. I’ve seen so many examples of teachers making phone calls to families, having class video conferencing meetings to just do a pulse check on each child, and going out of their way to make sure kids know that there’s an adult out there who cares. I’ve seen third grade teachers doing read alouds and high school teachers writing positive notes to seniors, knowing that they’ll miss out on graduation, varsity sports, the senior musical, and various concerts. It’s a reminder that collectively teachers are in this because they care about their students.

Teaching is inherently relational and teachers care deeply about those they serve.  Teachers have proven that “social distancing” is more about physical distance than relational distance.

They are maintaining relationships and building community despite the inherent barriers they face.

It’s not just teachers. I am incredibly grateful for the principals and district office leaders who have managed this transition quickly, often with patience and empathy. I am grateful for all cafeteria and food service staff who mobilized in a matter of a few days to ensure that students have access to a free breakfast and lunch every day during this crisis. Schools have done Chromebook roll-outs and sent school buses to neighborhoods to provide free wi-fi.

I was reminded of this last Friday when my daughter’s school did a parade. Afterward, I created a quick video reflection thanking teachers.

None of this is surprising to teachers. However, In the past, I’ve seen media reports scapegoat teachers for having low academic standards and praising reformers who were going to use high-stakes tests to “hold teachers accountable.” When I taught eighth grade, I endured all the “must be nice to have summers off” comments. I heard the snarky cliche that “those who can do, those who can’t teach.” There were moments when I wondered if society actually appreciated our tireless work at all.

But I think this quarantine is proving to the world what those of us in education already know. Teachers are amazing and schools are vital for our communities.

What Society Is Learning About Teachers

  1. Teachers care deeply. Hop onto social media and you’ll see teachers grieving for the things that they will miss. No field day. No end of the year party. No graduation. No epic project that they were saving for the end. But it goes much deeper than that. Step into the staff video conference and teachers are concerned about specific kids in specific families. They worry about children in dysfunctional or even unsafe spaces. They’re concerned about the chaos and stress at home and what that might mean for the students in their classroom. It’s not an accident that they use the phrases “my kids” and “our kids.” This isn’t pity, either. It’s empathy rooted in relationships. And it’s something teachers are providing for all students. Teachers are partnering with parents to make education work for specific families. I love the fact that we got a phone call from my daughter’s teacher checking in on us and making sure we had technology and wi-fi but also asking about any other systemic support they could offer. From a pedagogy perspective, teachers are driven by kindness. They are providing choices for students. They’re making deadlines flexible and allowing for the re-submission of work.
  2. Teachers are innovative. Call it adaptable or resourceful if “innovation” isn’t your term. But it’s been a grassroots mobilization. I’ve watched teachers form small groups using video conferencing, Voxer, and social media where they check in on one another and problem-solve the challenges they are facing. I’m in a Voxer group right now where folks have been sharing strategies for increasing student engagement in video conferencing. I’m part of three different private Facebook groups where we share resources back and forth. Log into Twitter and you’ll see all kinds of chats where teachers are asking, “What does it mean to teach well from a distance.” They’re having hard conversations about equity and asking what it means to teach in a culturally responsive way online. The context is changing rapidly and the policies are still lagging behind at times. However, teachers are planning, implementing, revising, and iterating at a rapid speed. It’s pretty amazing.
  3. Teachers don’t need “accountability” measures. It was never about the test. Never. For years, I watched education reformers say that teachers had low expectations of students. We were told that if we didn’t embrace high stakes accountability measures, teachers would slack off and coast. Well, the test is gone and teachers are working harder and taking more creative risks than before. Ask any teacher about the stresses of the job and “passing the test” nearly always comes up. I’ve been in meetings where specific teachers were shamed when their students didn’t show high enough growth. In some cases, newspapers even printed the lists of the lowest performing teachers. I watched great teachers burn out, not from the job, but from the test. My hope is that when this period of social isolation is over, we radically rethink the role of standardized tests in education. We don’t have to scrap them entirely. We can use them to get a general snapshot as a nation. But let’s drop the accountability measures. Let’s stop teaching to the test. And let’s give teachers professional autonomy and the permission to experiment with project-based learning.
  4. A teacher’s job goes beyond providing content. Schools have proven that they are the backbone of the community and teachers have proven that they are more than just content deliverers. I mention this because I’ve already seen tech futurists claiming that this is the “positive disruption” that will “finally replace costly teachers with more effective AI.” That grossly misunderstands the role of the teacher. Teachers are the guides that encourage and inspire critical thinking. They are the architects designing deeper learning. They are the leaders of a classroom community. The sheer number of kids outside cheering during the parade was a reminder that teaching isn’t about content delivery. It’s about relationships.

If you had been there on Friday, it felt like a Super Bowl parade — albeit one from a safe social distance. Kids were screaming and cheering and the teachers were waving and calling students out by name. Amid all the loneliness and isolation, the kids in our neighborhood felt known. And maybe that’s what really matters in the end.

A Free Video Writing Prompt / Maker Prompt

If you’re interested, I have a free video you could use with students:

John Spencer

John Spencer

My goal is simple. I want to make something each day. Sometimes I make things. Sometimes I make a difference. On a good day, I get to do both.More about me

2 Comments

  • Lynn says:

    Here! Here!
    I loved your article and all of what you said is true.
    I have a Teacher Pay Teacher account and I see so many teachers adding creative content for distance learning. Some have reduced prices of their materials to make them even more accessible to teachers around the country. In addition, most school systems are providing food to students who normally would be getting lunch and possibly breakfast at their schools.

  • Agnieszka says:

    I love the project of inventing a sport! What a cool idea!

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