Coronavirus pandemic-triggered dash to online learning puts teachers’ skill, empathy into sharp relief, professor says
For the past several weeks, the field of education has been flipped on its head as state agencies and postsecondary institutions have mandated that students stay home. We knew it was coming. Anyone who works in the field of education knows that schools are a petri dish for the spread of sickness.
As our nation braced for the inevitable spread of COVID-19, so did our teachers, quickly conceptualizing how they would transition to online learning for the nation’s millions of students. Teachers rose to the challenge of creating both synchronous and asynchronous online learning opportunities with little to no lead time and they’ve been working around the clock to provide the best possible education since.
Echoed through online communication from teachers to their students is one common message: We miss you, we care about you, and we will do our best to make learning happen.
During the most pressing times, reality smacks you in the face. Concerns that teachers have expressed for decades have finally come to light. So have concerns about student equity, and concerns about the teaching profession at large.
There are several truths that have been brought to the forefront with this pandemic. The first is that many, many children in this nation are living in poverty. In fact, the United States has one of the highest child poverty rates of any developed nation. An overwhelming number of children rely on schools to provide at least two meals a day, and for some children the only food they will eat all day long comes from school. To combat child hunger during this pandemic, school personnel quickly developed a plan to home-deliver food to our most vulnerable children. The number of children who fall into this category is higher than you might think. More than 50% of children in the United States qualify for free and reduced-price lunch at school. Without school-supported nutrition through this pandemic, many children would go hungry.
The second truth that has come to light is that teachers have an undying commitment to their students. Echoed through online communication from teachers to their students is one common message: We miss you, we care about you, and we will do our best to make learning happen. Students have also learned that their teachers are human beings with families, pets, and that there’s so much more to them than what they see in the classroom. As my 13-year-old daughter said to me last week, “Mom, my English teacher actually has a husband and kids. Who knew?”
Students throughout the United States have gained an understanding that the people in charge of their learning are human, and they’re doing the best that they can under enormous pressure.
Teaching is noble, and hard
The third truth that has been exposed through this pandemic has been highlighted by many memes, videos, and online posts from parents. Teaching is hard. Teaching is exhausting, demanding and challenges even the most patient people. Despite this, teachers have endured the brunt of many demoralizing put-downs over the years. George Bernard Shaw’s saying that “those who can do, those who can’t teach” underscores the ridiculous notion that teaching is a “less-than” profession.
This is further illustrated by the wage gap that teachers have experienced for decades. Most recently, the Economic Policy Institute (EPI, 2018) has suggested that teachers are paid roughly 18.7% less than comparable workers. Perhaps one takeaway from the home-schooling experience that many parents are facing due to COVID-19 is that teachers deserve fair wages. Teaching is a difficult, involved, and noble profession.
Once the dust settles and this pandemic has passed, we will need to take inventory of what we’re doing for the children of this nation. When more than half of students in the United States qualify for free and reduced school lunch, we know we have a problem. This problem is systemic and involves complex social issues that will require complex solutions, but we have to do better.
As Dietrich Bonhoeffer once stated, “The test of the morality of a society is what it does for its children.” We need reform for students and for their teachers. Through this experience, we have seen the true nature of our nation’s teachers. They are heroes. They are mentors. They care deeply for their students. Nothing but reform and positive outcomes can come from this learning experience. America’s children and America’s teachers deserve nothing less.
Dr. Rommy Fuller-Young is a visiting associate professor of education of Norwich University. She specializes in language and literacy for students of all ages.
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