We are about to witness one of the most contested and complex ‘back to school’ seasons in modern times. All Summer, families across the nation have been struggling with the decision to either send their students back to brick and mortar schools or to keep their students at home and continue enrollment in the continuously developing forward learning programs.
Despite the benefits and deficits of each option, anxiety is palpable across the education landscape as students, teachers, administrators and families scramble this week to adjust to a ‘new normal.’ This year’s students are returning to mandatory masks, empty seats on school buses, hand sanitizing stations, no shared supplies, limited hands on labs and eating lunch at a classroom table, by themselves. There will be limited sports, music and arts. There will be no pep rally, no Homecoming, no school play and no school dances. Hallways will be traversed one grade level at a time, one way, single file, 6 feet apart. Many more students will experience the first day of school from the kitchen table, through the screen of a laptop.
It would not be too much of a stretch for one to say that the immediate future for this school year is unknown, the back to school plan is ever changing, the implementations will be at times, chaotic. The overall mood, could for sure, be described as dark.
“In a time of turbulence and change, it is more important than ever that knowledge is power.”
-John F. Kennedy
However, we can all say that we are sending our students back with confidence, because America’s teachers will be there with them. For generations, teachers have represented the demarcation between a disordered and unknown world and a life of confidence and potential. I feel it is time they get their own thin line.
In first response, we are very proud of our ‘thin line’ designations. Law enforcement is the thin blue line between order and chaos. Fire and rescue services have the thin red line of courage. EMS has a thin white line that represents skill, dedication and compassion. The lines continue on for our military, emergency dispatchers, emergency nursing, corrections officers and more.
“In every generation, the world is changed by a few people who stand for something and dare to make a difference.”
- Nicky Gumbel
So, what would the thin line for our teachers look like?
I think if we simply take a look at a sample ‘day in the life’ of the modern day school teacher, we’ll have our answers.
There is the early, early start (my teacher wife gets up at 5 AM) that allows for some private time to prepare a lunch, check emails from the night before, recheck the home and work scheduleS and look over the coming day’s educational material. Then there is the brief but hectic ‘home room’ as we knew it and greeting students in the hallways, a tremendous social tradition that provides an exchange of encouragement and motivation. It can also look a little like herding cats. Then - ready, set, GO. Block scheduling, team meetings, parent phone calls, classroom presentations, dispute mediation, grading, logging, wolf down lunch in 15 minutes, education planning meetings, educator professional development training, hall duty, project summaries and somewhere in there, maybe a potty break. Maybe.
When schools were closed due to the COVID outbreak earlier this year, parents were provided a small sampling of the other side of life with their own children. The enormity of teachers’ expertise and impact was glaringly evident. Google even managed to produce a lighthearted but sincere thank you on behalf of American families.
In case you missed it:
What will a teacher’s role look like this year? In short, the workload of our teachers will not be less at all, as has been cynically taunted in social media recently. In fact, the duties and tasks of our teachers going back this year will be larger than most can appreciate and will certainly be more necessary than ever.
Reducing class sizes by half and dividing the school weeks into thirds did not reduce a teacher’s workload comparatively, it drove it up almost exponentially, as they now do the work of an entire team. Teachers will be surrogate parents to the children of complete strangers in a pandemic-panicked world. They will be counselors to students that after a half year in lockdown so desperately needed social contact but were instead issued mandatory social distancing. They will be magicians for developing new, in-class and online material simultaneously, as they race to complete curricula on a pace never before seen in modern education. Teachers will be coaches, fundraisers and keepers of the peace. They will be a moral compass one moment and comic relief another. They will be both the architects of the future and the locksmiths to our children’s potential. Then, they will go home to be spouses and parents and magicians all over again to their own families. At the end of the day they will crash to sleep, to get up and do it all over again; all for the love of our kids.
“The best thing a human being can do is to help another human being know more.”
- Charlie Unger
Stressful? Yes. Physical? At times, for sure. Emotional? Always. (Dozens to hundreds of adolescents, duh) Busy? More every year. Busy to the point of mental and physical drain? Definitely yes. Rewarding, fulfilling? Absolutely - and this is the the reason that teachers keep going back for more.
For a moment, sincerely consider what the school experience provides our youth beyond the traditional subjects; determination, courage, persistence, self-esteem, purpose and compassion- the list goes on. These lessons do not come from posters in the hallway, textbooks or from videos on the internet. They come from the examples, behaviors and direct interactions with American teachers. In fact, teachers are first responders of their own, providing knowledge, values and standards into the future of our society. Our future police officers, paramedics, nurses, judges, tradesmen, investors, realtors, technicians and care givers are all being influenced by today’s teachers. Make no mistake, the load is demanding, the consequences are high.
“I am convinced that knowledge is power - to overcome the past, to change our own situations, to fight new obstacles, to make better decisions.”
- Benjamin Carson, MD
So again, isn’t there some kind of symbol that we can use to express our gratitude for those that continue to hold that line between individual human growth and the stagnancy of our society? What color line to we assign a profession that is so vital and encompassing?
Maybe you can take out that graduation tassel that meant so much to you on graduation day. Lay it out in front of you and consider all that it represents in your early years: the line between growth and remaining the same, perseverance and quitting, resilience and doubt, accomplishment and failure. That tassel is a personal achievement, for sure. It’s colors radiate personal pride. You are where you are today because of all the work behind the achievement of that graduation tassel. That, and of course the quiet, empathetic and dedicated hearts of the teachers that supported you along the way.
That tassel - is their line.
To the students and teachers of the 2020-2021 school year: Lean on each other, you’ve got this. Do amazing things.
“Knowledge does away with darkness, suspense and doubt; for these things cannot exist where knowledge is...
In knowledge there is power.”
- Joseph Smith Jr.