We all have heroes. My wife, dad, mother, daughter, son, etc., etc……will always be on the top of the list. As I look back over the past seven months and reflect on how this pandemic has impacted education, I find myself adding educators, especially teachers, to the list of heroes. Whether in private, public, or charter schools, teachers (everyone in the education system for that matter) stepped up and became heroes to so many individuals. In my school district, March 13 started spring break, and it did not end until Aug. 3. During this expanded holiday, I stood in awe and watched school food services workers give tirelessly to make sure students did not go hungry through the course of many different “stay home” orders. I was inspired as teachers leaped into action and started teaching students in a way that has been seldom seen in a PK-12 environment. Principals, support staff, and counselors took leadership to a whole new level. They organized masses of support people to continue serving students and families, not just to educate but to offer assistance and be that voice of calm in the storm. Heroes are defined by how they handle challenging situations. When others run away from chaos, heroes run toward it, which is exactly what teachers and other educators all over this country did.
Everyone was tired, confused, afraid, and anxious, but teachers knew that children would be impacted the most by this event. So, what did they do? They did what they always do, they saddled up and went to work reaching out to children, bringing comfort, and doing everything in their power to maintain and further build the relationships that are so crucial for learning. Keep in mind; they did this while also trying to calm those fears in their households. As schools started reopening for the 20-21 school year, we called upon teachers to put aside their fears, learn new ways to reach and teach children, replicate what you do in the classroom for the benefit of at-home learners, and, in many cases, do that while wearing a mask all day long. Even though teachers knew they were in a new dual role of preparing for in-class AND virtual instruction, they jumped right in because they knew how important it was for students to keep learning and growing. Teachers, more than anyone else, knew what was at stake if the learning did not continue. The “COVID Slide” was real, and it had to be stopped. Educators knew the monumental task that lay ahead and knew that no one else could do what they were trained to do, so they, once again, ran to the chaos.
As I watched and read about so many parents across the country trying to engage their children in the learning process, I could not help but wonder if a new and stronger appreciation for what educators do was emerging. Before COVID-19, teachers were looked upon by many in this country as a second-class profession, a “fall back” if you did not get that brass ring diploma. For years, educators heard “those who can do and those who can’t teach.” Even before I became a teacher, I took offense to those words because I had some fantastic people who dedicated their lives, listened to the calling, and pushed me to be my best in school. They left such a meaningful impact in my life that I go to work each day trying to do the same for others. Because I was, and still am, exposed to so many great educators, I knew, “Those who can do, BECAUSE of a teacher.” Someday when this pandemic is over, I pray that COVID-19 will have shown the world that educators ARE a precious commodity that deserves respect and gratitude. Because, good reader, for my heroes, it’s always about the children and leaving our world better then we found it.
Richard Kelley is superintendent of the River Road Independent School District.