This is a grave time. As we try our best to weather this storm, we find ourselves asking a lot of questions that produce answers no more reliable than what we might expect from a Ouija board. We pin our hopes on any bit of promising news, becoming avid consumers of—if not authorities on—daily health statistics and medical trials. And as many times as we've heard the same stories—the uptick in bidet sales, the guy who died taking stuff meant for a fish tank all because it contained hydroxychloroquine, the President's daily self-congratulatory press briefings—our brains still have no room for anything but the coronavirus. Whatever was on our mind a month ago seems either trivial or a distant memory.
If there is a silver lining to be had here—and I actually think there will ultimately be quite a few—Americans may gain a deeper appreciation for the critical function of government and, with it, an appreciation for our nation's schools...and teachers.
Education and teachers are at the center of this vortex. There have been a lot of jokes on social media about how parents, now at home with their school age kids, have a newfound appreciation for teachers. (My personal favorite is the mom who posted that after Day 1 of homeschooling, two kids were suspended for fighting and the teacher was fired for drinking on the job.)
But jokes aside, teachers along with district and school staff across the country are on the front lines of adapting or building new infrastructure to provide public health information, food, internet access, counseling, and instructional materials to millions of students and their families suddenly confined to their homes. If people took for granted the role of schools and teachers in their communities before, it is certainly hard to do so now.
The truth is, though, I worry quite a bit about what's being asked of teachers right now. Flooded with resources from well-meaning organizations, the internet now ablaze with helpful hints and tips about online learning, they're being asked to deliver meaningful instruction overnight to students scattered hither and yon, each with wildly different capacities to fully participate and with different levels of disruption in their lives. Suddenly the demands we had been placing on teachers in 'normal times'—often criticized for being excessive—seem like a walk in the park.
My hope is that we can keep expectations for teachers realistic, particularly teachers whose students are very young. Some teachers no doubt are managing to pull off heroic efforts, with or without the help of their school districts, but we should acknowledge that the challenge for most is daunting.
I also hope that—in looking to the future—as school doors reopen, so do the eyes and minds of every grateful family, community member, and politician, brimming with newfound appreciation for these great public servants.