On Tuesday, October 5th was World Teacher Day, and now that most schools in the nation have returned to in-person learning, I want to take a moment to enthusiastically support our teachers and the positive impact they have on our children’s future.
Since March of 2020, a destructive contagion has challenged our children and presented an unprecedented obstacle to our education system. Without a doubt, education has diverged from its traditional moorings. As the president of the United Teachers of Dade, the largest teacher’s union in the southeastern United States, I have watched in admiration as educators from around the world collaborate with each other to learn new skills, use different platforms, upgrade electronics, create virtual classrooms, deliver materials to students’ doorsteps and design emojis to enhance online communication. They do all of this while becoming COVID experts as they maintain safe learning spaces in classrooms. Our education workforce has done everything from volunteering at food distribution centers during the height of the pandemic, to getting vaccinated, and gracefully maneuvering from in-person to online modality when quarantines occur.
They continue to encourage and lead students and communities across the globe despite the constant calamities and heartbreak.
But today, even as schools begin to open and we teachers get the joy of seeing our students in person, many challenges remain. Chief among them, we must also acknowledge that there is some disillusion towards teachers and school administrators.
It comes from a small group of people who are more impassioned to propagate political propaganda than to fight for the safety of kids. There are anti-mask groups disrupting our school board meetings and repeating harmful rhetoric at a cost of defunding our schools and our programs. And although we know that our communities are informed of the benefits of being vaccinated, we are also facing vaccine hesitancy in our country. The disinformation that is amplified by irresponsible leaders across the country who refuse to follow science, continues to traumatize our country.
It is incredible to think that while the CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend universal mask wearing for all K-12 schools, governors, like Governor DeSantis in my state of Florida, try to ban the use of masks in our classes and threaten to withhold funds for those school boards that fight for safety. During these tumultuous times, we must focus on the side of saving lives instead of allowing misguided leaders to use teachers as fodder in misguided culture wars that politicize children. As W. E. B. DuBois opined, “Either America will destroy ignorance or ignorance will destroy the United States.”
Since mid-August, my own education system in Miami-Dade has lost more than 13 district employees, including educators, bus drivers, cafeteria workers, and security monitors, due to COVID-19. All these figures played a cherished role in their respective communities and impacted the students they interacted with.
To honor these extraordinary individuals, my organization coordinated pop-up vaccination sites for Miami-Dade employees to get protection against this pandemic. While Governor DeSantis and state legislators continue to work against the interests of educators, we have taken it upon ourselves to fight against misinformation and ignorance so we can safely support our children. To us, this act of leading by example embodies what it means to educate.
But we cannot take this fight alone. Now more than ever, we as teachers need parents and community members to be our allies. I believe that this is our collective responsibility to support each other and ensure a brighter future for our children. Part of that process is to teach people when they are wrong, be understanding towards the needs of others, and love and respect one another because there is a lot of pain in the world.
These acts of kindness and compassion go a long way and will serve as a model to our children who are watching us in real-time. Making every one of us, whether we know it or not, genuine teachers standing at the front of life and being observed by others. It is a lot of responsibility, but the truth is we are all influencers that need to be bold in our pursuit of making a better future for succeeding generations.
Every child that teachers interact with is a precious life. It is a life that a parent has entrusted us with. We must teach them, care for them, and protect them.
I remember on the first day of second grade, being welcomed into a brightly lit classroom by a young teacher. Her enchanting eyes and beautiful smile greeted each of us as we walked through her door and relieved some of my first-day anxiety. She stood at the front of the class, took attendance, and prepared us for our second-grade journey by explaining the rules and our expected behaviors. Mrs. Charles then engaged us with an icebreaker for the whole class to get to know a little about each other. She started it off by telling us a little about herself and her background.
The exercise was simple, yet very complex. We had to tell our classmates how to pronounce our name, something interesting about ourselves, and our cultural background. As an education professional for the last 19 years, I can tell you that what Mrs. Charles was doing was well beyond her years of experience. She was creating a space that embraced our differences, fostered social-emotional intelligence, and was culturally responsive to our needs. That’s great teaching.
Some of us have the distinct honor of being teachers in the traditional sense, with student rosters and class schedules. As we celebrate the contributions that teachers make in our communities every day, I ask you to reach back to the memories of those flipping pages of newly minted books running across your fingertips and reminiscence about your favorite teacher. Allow the memory of their impact on your life to inspire you to uplift the profession.
Together let’s invest in programs that prioritize our students and their learning environments as we recover from this global pandemic. It is our responsibility to let our teachers know just how much we value them as heroes and support them as they take our children on a learning journey.
There is a great deal of expectation in the work that we do as guardians of the future, and we do it with pride and dignity. Let’s support all educators and treat them with the honor that they deserve as they navigate our students through this tempest.