I saw the online letter above as a personification of all the things that America asks of its educators in the midst of pandemic. Apart from America I’m not sure who to credit it to. It is clear though, apart from other things America needs are lessons on punctuation and grammar. Beyond that I thought it deserved a response, so on behalf of teachers…
Thank you for your kind letter and for thinking of us. That alone is a rarity.
Our job, like so many other important but underestimated ones, has always been one of chosen sacrifice for the greater good. We have always been here for the kids. It is for their light bulb moments, their expanding hearts, and their smiles (even behind masks) that we persevere.
And we do it, ourselves smiling most days. We do it in the face of budget cuts, disappearing arts programs, so much new to learn, so much vying for attention, so much inequity, an ever-changing world, and the derision of public officials. We do it, because it is the kids who suffer if we don’t. And they are our children too.
We have sought to be tutors and guides, inspiration and motivation, artists and authors, disciplinarians and confidants. We too are the counselors and nurses that, for some reason or priority we weren’t privy to, had to be cut. (FYI, maybe respond to their letters too.) We are surrogate mothers and fathers to those in need of a stern word or a hug. We function as career advisors, public speakers, diplomats, and life coaches. We are the IT department and a box of tissues. And we foster a lifelong love of learning in the growing face of those who mock knowledge as ‘elitist’.
We are the Ms Frizzle’s giving your children wonder and magic and the Miss Honey’s recognizing the magic in them. We inspire students to be serious Great Debaters and bring them joy in Schools that Rock. We tell the kids you can Lean on Me and call them to Stand and Deliver the truth to those who would ignore them. We are Professor Xavier creating a safe place for those who are called different by the outside world and the Dumbledores calling for us to use our differences to protect even those who can’t understand those differences. We are Miss Norbury challenging the Mean Girls and existing structures of cruelty and cliques. And we are John Keating inspiring students to stand tall and challenge the world themselves. “Oh captain, my captain.”
In reality we are Jaime Escalante inspiring a generation to love math and Erin Gruwell inspiring them to write. We are Einstein exploring new ideas and McAuliffe sacrificing herself to explore new worlds. We are the heart of and guide for many different communities from Booker T. Washington to Laura Ingalls Wilder. We are John Dewey’s innovations of the past and Sal Khan’s innovations now. We are Horace Mann and the knowledge that public schools are what create better citizens. And we are Anne Sullivan teaching Helen Keller how to not only overcome but to thrive despite any obstacle, even in a pandemic. And we know all these things because we too learned them from our teachers.
We are all of these things and we ask very little. We don’t need (or get) a lot of money. We don’t need award shows even though we are eager to award our students. We love our students, even the ones that sometimes make that hard. Sometimes it is especially those kids we love the deepest. And some of us have lost students and colleagues before. We have lost them to bullets, to illness, to car crashes, and more. And we know how heart wrenching it is especially if we feel we could’ve protected them better.
So we have modest requests for nurses, counselors, protective equipment, windows that open, walls that aren’t crumbling, toilets and sinks that work, some distancing even when difficult, and equitable distribution of services. And we ask not solely for our sakes but for all the others we care about in our school community. Even in past days when we sought better pay (or to be paid for the time we’ve already put in), it certainly isn’t enough to call it personal greed. We just wish we could devote our time more to this calling without needing second and third jobs to pay off our school loans. You know the ones we procured to give us all the skills and knowledge we’ve mentioned. And in lieu of all of that, maybe just a decent computer and network to do it all remotely until we can safely see the faces of our students in person.
We know you’re kind of busy America and have a lot on your plate. We don’t want to take up more of your time. But remember that we help prepare the future. And maybe ponder that the knowledge we provide might better prepare us to respond appropriately to the next pandemic when it comes. There are moments, it would seem, when it’s good to rely on stuff we know rather than just gut feeling. So maybe you might consider us worth a little attention.
P.S. I wish you would work on proper grammar and punctuation like we talked about. And little Johnny Hancock, we can’t see your work under your massive signature. And there will be a test on all of this.