Teaching then…

Long before COVID-19, social distancing, or mask mandates, we had teachers. Every August, after a few precious weeks of summer and many projects left unfinished, they showed up in empty classrooms to prepare for the new year. They rearranged furniture, made name plates, and decked out bulletin boards for a brand-new set of children. This yearly set-up ritual was a way of “blessing” or “christening” their new school “house” for all the good things to happen over the coming weeks and months. Even before the long-awaited class lists arrived, teachers were already envisioning new faces working and playing in their classrooms. They knew the students were brimming with excitement and that some of them were beyond ready to get back to the safest place they knew.

Once the new classroom was ready, the teachers began to gather. They listened to administrators deliver hope and expectation and they collaborated with team members about plans for the students. Some days, they enjoyed long lunches in actual restaurants where they caught up with their teacher-friends about their summer: the joys, struggles, travels and how much the kids had eaten and grown. They all lamented the end of summer, how dreadfully short it was, and how they couldn’t believe it was over.

Before they knew it, they got to meet the new students in their shiny classrooms, to share smiles, hugs, and big hopes and dreams for the coming year. “I’m so excited to have you in my class! We’re going to have a great year,” they said to the students. And to nervous parents, they said, “Don’t you worry about a thing. We will keep in touch and make it a great year for your child.” Everyone saw the upcoming school year as a clean slate and new beginning.

There’s nothing like that beginning of school magic! Any description I give pales in comparison to the beauty and nervous energy that fills once-empty halls and classrooms and hearts. And there’s no tired like beginning of the year teacher tired! The teachers pour every bit of heart, soul, and energy into preparing and welcoming their new group of students.

…and teaching now

Now it’s the 2020-2021 school year. So much has changed, and many things are uncertain, and yet…the teachers are still here! They bring the same hopes, dreams, and anticipation. They’ve prepared both a literal and virtual classroom for students and learned as much as they could about how to make this year a success, despite its challenges. They still lie awake at night wondering and worrying about each student. They wait for the inspiration that allows them to reach each one. In spite of their fears and uncertainty, they stand (or sit) ready with a smile to greet each child with warmth and hope.

This year, the teachers come in the face of unspeakable risk. They come with the added burden of students’ physical health in addition to their educational needs. They’re torn more than ever between family at home and their classroom family. They want to keep everyone in both places safe and at peace. But still they come, smiling behind a mask and fighting back tears as they embark on what will surely be their most challenging year. When we all look back, time will be marked by “before COVID” and “after COVID.” It’s the first school year on this side of history. The teachers come with a collective resolve to make it a good one, even with all the uncertainty and fear.

What you can do for teachers

What if we all did something to thank, support, and encourage at least one teacher during the coming weeks? A meal, a gift-card, an item from an Amazon wish-list goes such a long way. Even an encouraging note or a smile can help. There has never been a year when teachers will need that extra support as much as this one. What a difference we could make for the ultimate difference-makers in our communities! It’s time to thank a teacher.

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