Over the past several weeks, in the midst of significant upheaval brought on by COVID-19, our K-12 teachers, counselors and school leaders have been appropriately recognized for their heroic work on behalf of children and families.
Our educators stayed in schools and classrooms during the early days of the pandemic. Even as the news became more alarming and businesses began to shut down face-to-face interactions, our teachers — and our student teachers — showed up every day for their students.
Then, as schools worked to quickly close down in response to shelter-in-place orders, our educators pivoted. With very short notice and with very limited support, schools worked to create online learning experiences for students. Teachers and counselors sent messages, created TikTok videos, led drive-by parades complete with encouraging signs and funny costumes, and made phone calls to let students know they are missed. They read stories over the phone and hosted virtual field trips online to bring some normalcy to students’ lives.
School and district leaders set up drive-thru school lunch programs to provide healthy meals to low-income students and their families. Principals and school staff scrounged through every closet on their campuses to find computers to distribute to students. And when the supplies ran out, they contacted local companies and nonprofit organizations to gather further supplies to ensure that the most vulnerable in their communities were not disproportionately harmed by the disruptions to schooling caused by the pandemic.
In the midst of increasingly scary news, each of these good news stories about the heroic work of educators has been a ray of hope. Doing this work, especially when our educators are also worried about their own families, concerned about financial stability, and juggling multiple work and home responsibilities, is heroic. And at the same time, these educators are simply acting as educators have for generations. For those of us in education, we know that these are not extraordinary stories. These are the everyday stories of teachers.
The people who choose to go into education do this work because we want to make a positive impact on the lives of individuals, families and communities. Anyone who has spent time in a school knows that the work is not glamorous nor is it easy. Educators work long hours for not a lot of money. Many work in schools that are underfunded and overcrowded. And, with so many of our students experiencing trauma in their lives, nearly all educators also carry heavy emotional burdens. Yet educators persist.
The future educators in our programs at Cal State Fullerton and San Jose State choose to pursue this challenging career pathway because they believe in its promise. They know that if our society wants to breathe life into the promise of economic opportunity, social justice, equity and access, we must have educators who are champions for our children and communities. This is who our educators are. This is who they always have been.
When the COVID-19 crisis comes to an end, the public must not lose the understanding that educators are heroes. We cannot forget the goodwill and pride that we feel toward our teachers, counselors and school leaders during this critical time. Their everyday actions are vital to the care and well-being of our children, families and communities. Our teachers deserve the respect, trust and funding that reflects the heroes that they are today and every day.
By Lisa Kirtman, dean of the College of Education at Cal State Fullerton, and Heather Lattimer, dean of the Lurie College of Education at San José State University
Cal State Fullerton is looking for stories from our campus community about being a witness to history. Contact Senior Director of Digital Media Michael Mahi at firstname.lastname@example.org.