Dear teachers: You are also essential

Dear Teachers, 

I want you to know that you are seen and you are valued. You may not be listed as essential workers. But you are essential. 

As a former teacher, I know all the work that goes into teaching under typical circumstances. Teaching during this coronavirus pandemic is so far from typical. It’s literally nothing school systems have ever done before. 

This isn’t what you signed up for, and yet you’re doing it anyway. You’re putting together distance learning plans. You’re adapting your teaching in the blink of an eye.

I know you miss your students, the classroom community, and the culture you cultivated. I know how much your students mean to you — how they become “your kids” year after year — and how much you love seeing them light up when they learn something new.

Don’t worry. Your students are still learning something new.

Here are a few other things you should keep in mind during this time.

1. You’re still teaching.

Even though it may not feel like it sometimes, you’re teaching. Right now our kids are learning social-emotional skills that no curriculum could account for.

That Google Meet that didn’t work out? It wasn’t a mess. It was a learning opportunity. Our kids learned that it’s OK to fail and try again another day. 

When they couldn’t start their learning packets because they didn’t have a printer at home? Once our kids found out that you’d mail work to them, they saw flexible thinking and perseverance in action. 

You’re finding ways to connect with your students and their families, even as you’re trying to take care of yourself and your own family. Our kids are learning empathy and compassion from you — a skill we’re all learning and practicing right now. 

2. You’re creating history.

You’re the first teachers to tackle a challenge like the one we’re facing now. Years from now, 2020 will be remembered as the year we all learned how to live life at a distance from each other and continue to function as a society.

Pause a moment and realize that what you’re doing matters. It matters not just for the students you have in your classes today, but also for the future. You’re part of large-scale systemic change and are making history.

3. You may be grieving the loss of “normal.”

This is the time of year when you tend to see your class come together as a unit that knows how to work together, learn together, and laugh together.

For now, it’s OK to cry together, too. (Or on your own.) A teacher I know told me that her fourth-grade class has been without each other for too long. If you’d all known that goodbye would be the last for the year, maybe you would have hugged a little longer or high-fived more often. It’s OK to grieve those hugs and high-fives.

4. You have expertise. 

You’re learning new ways of presenting information and trying to make it so that all students can access it. You’re figuring out what teaching looks like when “school” has become “schooling.” 

I’m doing my best to support my child’s at-home learning, but in no way do I consider this “homeschooling.” I’m supervising, but you, the teacher, are doing the heavy lifting. I know how hard teaching is. I’m grateful that other parents are getting a peek under the hood and seeing how much work goes into it. 

“But my teacher doesn’t do it that way!” Any parent who has heard that knows you’ve made a lasting impression. Any parent who is watching Khan Academy videos in the bathroom so they can help with math knows you have skills and knowledge we lack. 

You have a place in our kids’ lives. Whether they’re groaning about doing the work you’ve assigned, anxiously awaiting a phone call from you, or gleefully trying to get your attention during your virtual class meeting, it’s because you matter. 

Teachers, parents can’t replace you. You are essential. Take care of yourself. Be well. Try your best. And thank you for being there.


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