When my kids were little, I did a bit of substitute teaching. After I accidentally threw an encyclopedia and flipped a desk over, I realized teaching elementary school probably wasn’t for me.
Teachers are comprised of strong stuff. The molten lava that flows through their veins gives them courage and an unbreakable gaze. A skeleton made of graphene (200 times stronger than steel) keeps them steady and protects their hearts. And those hearts beat a consistent tempo that opens doors to new worlds and encourages students to find their own rhythm.
But teachers are exhausted.
I attended Viewmont Elementary during the 1900s, where teachers were the top of the food chain. I worshiped the good ones, feared the difficult ones, and loathed the mean ones.
I remember the “trip” our kindergarten class took to Hawaii where we ate coconut and learned the hula. And the teacher who caught us eating snowballs, so she melted snow to show us the dirt and grime. (I haven’t eaten a snowball in more than 45 years.) Or the teacher who shamed me for not knowing the word “chandelier.”
School was where I learned social skills. Okay, I learned them poorly, but I did learn some. I interacted with people my age where we talked about our favorite TV shows, what we had for dinner and whether my crush winked at me or had a tic.
Today, students feel lost.
My 8-year-old grandson started the school year online, changed to in-person learning, then went back online. He might enjoy hanging out with his mom, grandma, and little demon of a sister, but he misses his friends.
Imagine trying to learn long division on a Zoom call. I couldn’t even learn it in person. Or imagine hosting a virtual call for a class of first graders who have the attention span of a meatball. My mom thought education was vital, but if she had to supervise online learning for me and my four siblings, she would have sold us to the circus.
Teachers are struggling. Kids are struggling. Parents are struggling.
If we’ve learned one thing this crappy year, it’s that superheroes walk among us. Healthcare workers and winemakers are tied for the top spot on my list, with teachers, students, and parents finishing a close second by demonstrating unprecedented resilience.
Many kids are failing this year, but are they really? Can you fail when a global pandemic changes the rules? When teachers adapt daily to shifting conditions? Can you fail when parents work full-time jobs at home while staying on top of online assignments and hybrid schedules?
Teachers are a mighty mix of educator/guidance counselor/cheerleader/cruise director, and this year their creativity and patience has been tested. It brings to mind my husband’s favorite quote, “Looks like I picked the wrong [year] to stop sniffing glue.”
This is a thank you to the teachers who work with my grandchildren. The teachers who are innovative and kind. The teachers who show up like a boss and get to work. This is also a thank you to the students who have proven to be flexible and strong. They’re all doing the best they can as they watch adults try to figure everything out.
Maybe we write this school year off; maybe it’s not the year to learn geometry or teach Latin. Perhaps it’s the year we value kindness, connection, and self-care for everyone involved. I promise, there’ll be much less encyclopedia throwing and desk flipping.