Each May, students and communities across the country celebrate Teacher Appreciation Week. Whether festivities involve gift-giving or a simple “thank you,” Teacher Appreciation Week is a great opportunity to show teachers just how much they’ve impacted you. Initially, the occasion was relegated to a single day, set in place by Eleanor Roosevelt and the 81st Congress in 1953. However, the National PTA called for an extension of the celebration, drawing it out through the first week of May.
In the era of COVID-19 and remote employment, teachers are among the many professionals who have had to pivot quickly. It’s important to celebrate the stoicism, then, of our education’s most important employees. Not only have teachers transitioned their lesson plans online, but they’ve reached out to students and created online learning communities that remain passionate and innovative. It could be argued there has never been a more important time to recognize the contributions of our teachers.
However, this celebration does not occur in a vacuum. While teachers have certainly done their part to offer exceptional learning experience via the web, they have also encountered many hurdles. Many students continue to work without internet access or web devices, reducing online attendance rates. Teachers also had to rely on third-party training resources to understand the technology and software required for remote schooling—and some have struggled with it. According to education writer Caralee Adams, “Teachers ideally should receive several days, weeks or—better—months of in-depth preparation before launching an online learning program.”
School closures happened in the blink of an eye with COVID-19; there was little time, if any, for districts to prepare teachers for the transition to remote learning. While many school districts have done commendable work in helping support educators teach in a more digital environment, that is vastly different from effective, sustainable training in virtual learning. Still, despite all the roadblocks and obstacles in their way, teachers have pushed ahead and done the best they could with what they have, and many are looking forward to when schools can open their doors again.
However, what happens if another crisis closes schools down? Schools will not only have to plan for the safe return of students and staff, but also put plans in place if brick and mortar schools have to close their doors again in the future. There will be an expectation that districts are better prepared for such a circumstance and have supported teachers with the necessary tools to better pivot to online education. Remote learning works, with all its idiosyncrasies and difficulties, and some states and local groups may see it as a solid Plan B in the event of another pandemic, economic crisis, or similar event. This will require schools to invest in training resources for teachers, especially as new edtech hardware and software emerge. If educators understand how to use a full variety of digital tools, such programs can be incorporated into the everyday classroom. Then, if and when a crisis arises, those educators can seamlessly transition the whole program online if they have been supported with the appropriate training. But, to prove our appreciation for our nation’s teachers, both now and in the future, we must prepare them for such circumstances and set them up to be successful.
May is a time to appreciate our teachers—and we should certainly do that. However, if this pandemic has proven anything, it has shown society how so many people have critical jobs that make a true difference each and every day. That is absolutely the case with our teachers. As parents have had to do more to ensure their children’s education continues as best it can in this new remote structure, the importance of our teachers has never been more clear. Celebrate Teacher Appreciation Week; but please, also show your appreciation throughout the year.