One of my favorite books is Teaching & Religious Imagination by Maria Harris. It is a wonderful book and I am grateful to my doctoral comps all those years ago for allowing me to become familiar with it. What I love about it, is how it describes secular teaching in religious language. The very act of teaching – regardless of subject or location – is a religious act. This is not just beautiful imagery, which it is, but an important truth to acknowledge as we head into another transition – this time from hyflex, back to in-person learning.
Those of us who have been charged with the sacred task of providing a child with an education recognize and are humbled by that holy responsibility. It matters not in a school whether we are the teacher of prayer or the teacher of math or the teacher of French or the teacher of badminton. Education is interactional and God can be found in the quality of our relationships. How we treat our students and each other matters.
Teachers, like families, are looking forward to a much-needed break from the challenges and burdens of having pivoted from in-person learning to Winter Break to distance learning to hyflex learning to February Break; with a final two-week phasing out of hyflex as the circle rounds back to in-person. Please know that just as it is vitally important that we find the opportunity to share the good with parents about their children, I cannot tell you how impactful it is when a parent shares something nice about or directly to a teacher. These acts of lovingkindness are what sustains even the most dedicated of teachers during inevitable times of stress. Thank you to all who do take the time…your kindness matters.
We are long past the point of predictions when the truest thing is our inability to know what is to come. We know that when we return from break that the sun will rise on each new day. We are hopeful for better/easier days, but prepared for all possibilities. I am as anxious and excited as anyone to see what is to come. If the saying, “Man plans; God laughs,” is true, I guess we’ll see who is laughing in the weeks to come.
In the meanwhile, we wish all our OJCS Families a safe, restful, joyous and meaningful February Break.
We will be celebrating “Faculty Appreciation Week” next week and with the overwhelming majority of schools making their ways through their versions of distance learning we will – rightfully – hear all the ways that having school at home (which is not homeschooling) has brought newfound appreciation for all the things that teachers do to facilitate learning, inspire growth, foster imagination, support development, catalyze innovation, nurture spirits and souls and otherwise care for and love their children. We will prepare treats, send gift e-cards and even invite our students to capture their messages of appreciation. And we should! But if we genuinely want to show our appreciation for faculty, perhaps we should give them the one gift they most surely want and have most truly earned – the benefit of the doubt.
I wrote a torrent of words (even for me) last week about all the ways we should carry the lessons of distance learning forward to school; that there are important lessons and platforms and pedagogies and ideas that should carry forward into school whenever we do return. We don’t want to go back to school, we want to go forward. But in terms of teacher appreciation, I would argue the opposite. The lesson we want to learn from distance learning about appreciating and valuing teachers is that we actually do want to go back – way back – to a time when we gave our teachers the benefit of the doubt.
Teachers are not infallible. Teachers make mistakes. Teachers can do the wrong thing. Giving teachers the benefit of the doubt doesn’t mean blind faith. Giving teachers the benefit of the doubt doesn’t mean parents shouldn’t advocate for their children. Giving teachers the benefit of the doubt doesn’t meant that sometimes parents don’t have a better solution to an issue than their teachers. The best of schools foster healthy parent-teacher relationships explicitly because of these truths. Both partners are required to produce the best results. But somewhere in between my time as a student to my time as an educator, the culture changed. Respect for teachers went from being automatic to being earned to being ignored.
So this year for “Teacher Appreciation Week” absolutely send gift cards and post creatively on social media. Buy ads in yearbooks, post lawns signs and lead parades. Express your appreciation for all the things your child(ren)’s teacher(s) have done to make this transition to distance learning as successful as it has been. Please.
But let’s also try assuming the best of our teachers – even when they have difficult truths to share. Give them the benefit of the doubt – even when they don’t communicate as well as they could. Treat them as partners – even when they make mistakes. Let’s not simply tell our teachers that we appreciate them; let’s actually appreciate them.