There may be a vaccine ready to be rolled out in some places. But it will be a long, slow process, and meanwhile in many, many places – too many places – the healthcare facilities are overflowing and the healthcare workers are beyond overwhelmed. Many are out sick with COVID themselves or are out self-isolating because of exposure to COVID … or have died of COVID. We don’t have extra reserves of these trained people waiting in the wings to take over, folks. These trained people who have been giving their all for 9+ months now are beyond exhausted. These are overwhelmed frontline workers.
There may be a vaccine ready to be rolled out in some places. But it won’t have a positive impact on returning schools to normal – a SAFE normal – at least until the beginning of the next school year (in the northern hemisphere) in September 2021. Meanwhile, in many, many places, teachers at all levels, from pre-school through university, have had to handle changing how they do everything. They’ve had to make these changes on the fly. From one day to the next. They’ve had to learn how to use technology to teach their students on a screen from home. They’ve not only had to learn how to use the technology, but they’ve had to figure out how to use it effectively, trying to really connect with their students and engage them. They’ve sometimes had to teach some of their students remotely while they teach others in the classroom. They’ve had to worry about catching COVID themselves, about spreading it unknowingly, about protecting their students and their families. They’ve had to spend evenings figuring out how to build on what’s been done remotely today to make the next day work better, all the while answering emails and texts from students and/or parents. It hasn’t stopped. Add these teachers to the “overwhelmed frontline workers” list.
In many places they’ve had to do all this while their governments have been making it more difficult than it should be, both for them and, importantly, for their students. Some jurisdictions have refused to put in mask or distancing requirements for students, even as the virus has been spreading among staff. Some governments (one across the pond comes to mind) have told teachers that they must keep all students in the classroom instead of moving to remote learning in advance of a safe Christmas for all – literally at all costs. And in at least one Canadian province this seems to be the case even when people are not allowed to celebrate Christmas with anyone outside their own household because of lockdown.
The stress has been enormous and our teachers at all levels are exhausted. I hope everyone will reach out to those who are teaching their kids, or for older students to those who are teaching them, and thank them for going the extra mile during this tough time. They are doing their best under extraordinary circumstances. Many are actually doing more than their best. And there is no job more important.
Not every teacher hits the mark for every student, but most teachers have had a significant impact on some of their students each year, usually without even knowing it. I can think of several who made a difference in my life, either by bringing a subject to life that I had thought didn’t have any life or by seeing something in me that I would never have seen myself. In those categories I would put my grade 3 teacher, Mrs. Crowley, my grade 6 teacher, Mr. Nids, my grade 12 math teacher, Mr. Stilwell, my McGill 1st year English tutorial leader, Mr. Stacey, and my McGill 2nd year crystallography prof, Dr. Frueh. I’m sure you all have similar lists.
On that note, I came across the following story recently (thanks, Marilyn) that says it all about the value teachers bring to our lives. In trying to find the source, it seems to be a slightly modified version of a story told in the book What Teachers Make: In Praise of the Greatest Job in the World, by Taylor Mali. I think it’s worth sharing.
The dinner guests were sitting around the table discussing life. One man, a CEO, decided to explain the problem with education. He argued, “What’s a kid going to learn from someone who decided his best option in life was to become a teacher?”
To stress his point he said to another guest; “You’re a teacher, Linda. Be honest. What do you make?”
Linda, who had a reputation for honesty and frankness replied, “You want to know what I make? (She paused for a second, then began…)
“Well, I make kids work harder than they ever thought they could.
I make a C+ feel like the Congressional Medal of Honor winner.
I make kids sit through 40 minutes of class time when their parents can’t make them sit for 5 without an IPod, Game Cube or movie rental.
Do you want to know what I make? (She paused again and looked at each and every person at the table)
I make kids wonder.
I make them question.
I make them apologize and mean it.
I make them have respect and take responsibility for their actions.
I teach them to write and then I make them write. Keyboarding isn’t everything.
I make them read, read, read.
I make them show all their work in math. They use their God-given brain, not the man-made calculator.
I make my students from other countries learn everything they need to know about English while preserving their unique cultural identity.
I make my classroom a place where all my students feel safe.
Finally, I make them understand that if they use the gifts they were given, work hard, and follow their hearts, they can succeed in life.
(Linda paused one last time and then continued.)
Then, when people try to judge me by what I make, with me knowing money isn’t everything, I can hold my head up high and pay no attention because they are ignorant.
You want to know what I make? I MAKE A DIFFERENCE.
What do you make Mr. CEO?
His jaw dropped, he went silent.
A truly profound answer!!!
Teaching is … the profession that makes all other professions possible.
Thank you teachers and profs, one and all!