Chavous: We’ve Always Applauded Teachers for the Amazing Job They Do. But This Year, They Deserve a Standing Ovation

(David L. Ryan / Getty Images)

Teacher Appreciation Week hits a little differently this year, doesn’t it?

Parents have never been more in awe of the work that teachers do. They are seeing firsthand just how hard it is to keep kids focused and productive on school days — let alone teach them anything. Many completely stand behind what Shonda Rhimes tweeted last month: “Been homeschooling a 6-year old and 8-year-old for one hour and 11 minutes. Teachers deserve to make a billion dollars a year. Or a week.”

At the same time, a growing number of parents are frustrated with the patchwork of remote learning in their communities. Many schools scrambled to get kids the devices, internet connections and online learning platforms they needed to continue learning without any significant disruption, with varying degrees of success. Others didn’t — or wouldn’t.

Students whose structured learning has stopped will never get that time back. Depending on grade and subject, students’ learning gains could be almost a full year behind what we’d expect under normal conditions.

Any ire directed toward teachers about this situation is misplaced. They want nothing more than to be reunited with their students, and in many cases, they’re independently working to make the most of this situation.

Having to adjust to this drastically different way of teaching, many educators are putting in more effort, not less. They’re revising, scrapping and rewriting lesson plans that are no longer possible because class isn’t being held in person. They’re posting YouTube videos, making driveway calls, emailing and calling parents to make sure students have everything they need. In short, they’re giving it their all as usual, in the most unusual of times.

Of course, not every teacher is going through this fire drill right now. Before the pandemic, more than a million students were already learning in online schools that look quite different from the current national experience. Those kids start the school year with the tools they need. They log on every day. They engage with the content, frequently interact with their teachers and their peers and learn on secure platforms where hackers can’t interrupt them.

The difference is that the teachers in these schools are properly prepared. They receive training from experts in online education, people who have continually innovated and improved the model to increase student success. They work diligently to adapt their traditional methods of in-person instruction to virtual classroom environments, and their curriculum and tools are built to be used online.

Virtually all of today’s suddenly online teachers didn’t have the chance to learn these things before being pushed into remote instruction, because their administrators didn’t think it necessary. Those who did could have probably used more time to study up on the multitude of free resources online learning experts have since put out there. Yet, amazingly, some teachers, through their own determination and passion for education, are doing an incredible job making sure America’s kids don’t fall behind.

As we look forward to the next school year, we need to do better than just crossing our fingers and hoping things go back to normal. Districts need to use this experience to develop thoughtful and thorough emergency response plans that include sufficient resources for students and teachers. Remote learning works, when it happens on proven platforms and is delivered by teachers who are adequately trained, equipped and supported.

We’ve always applauded teachers. But this year, in seeing what they face on a day-to-day basis and how they’re educating kids despite the odds, I’d say they deserve a standing ovation.

Kevin P. Chavous, a former District of Columbia City Council member, is an attorney, author, education reform activist and president of academics, policy and schools at K12 Inc. In April, he was named to the National Coronavirus Recovery Commission.

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