Opinion: This holiday, don’t forget grace – for teachers

Lisa Huffman, masked at her desk, encourages public to have grace for teachers

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to negatively impact our state economies, health systems and educational institutions, many Americans—no doubt—are experiencing profound stress.

The pandemic was a factor in the partisanship that took center stage in the 2020 presidential election, contributed to our weakened labor force and pitted parents against one another over whether our schools should deliver instruction in person or online.

Across communities, some schools opted for online education, some for in-person classes and others for a combination of the two. Caught in the middle of that vexing dilemma were our classroom teachers.

Regardless of how school districts responded, the vast majority of teachers demonstrated extraordinary commitment to delivering the best instruction they could under the circumstances, often times risking their own personal safety.

It didn’t matter if instructors were 20-year veterans or first-year teachers. Educators were thrust into the unenviable position of retooling their curricula to support online delivery – and in many instances this change took place literally overnight.

For you parents out there, do you remember what it was like last spring when, for the first time, you helped your children navigate through a maze of digital coursework? This is what teachers are doing every day—and in ways they could never have anticipated.

From educators across the United States, I have heard about:

  • Kindergarten teachers instructing 25 or more students fully online.
  • Elementary teachers conducting two online and two face-to-face periods each day.
  • Middle and high school teachers juggling instructional platforms in which half the students learn online and the other half learn in person, simultaneously.

Not only are there variations in instructional formats for students, COVID continues to require teachers to master new online tools to support these various forms of instruction. Most teachers are delivering instruction in at least two different platforms and some are balancing as many as four. This is extremely difficult.

Teaching is not just about content, it’s about tailoring instruction to each child to ensure growth and learning. This means every teacher is busy creating lessons in multiple formats, and the lessons must be rich in content and efficient in delivery. It is a process that requires adapting existing resources or finding new ones.

It might mean recording lessons without the benefit of real-time student feedback. It could involve videoconferencing with groups of children without the ability to filter whatever distractions might be coming from the home. It may require adjusting planned lessons to accommodate absent students for the next day’s instruction.

Even before this COVID environment, teachers were not ending their day at 3 p.m. Now, they are working well beyond the bedtimes of the children they are teaching and spending weekends refining instructional delivery, grading schoolwork or reviewing the next day’s lessons. Many teachers sacrifice time with their own families to do this.

Understandably, educators at every level are coping with remarkable stress, and the headlines about underperforming students in this unprecedented time are certainly contributing to their angst.

I feel for the teachers who are experiencing enormous pressure right now. They are going above and beyond every day for the children of Texas. If you are familiar with teacher pay scales, you know teachers don’t go into this profession for the money, yet their impact on our communities is immeasurable.

Teachers are truly the lifeblood of our educational system and integral to our economy. Remember, teachers support all other professions. There truly is no playbook for schooling during a pandemic, but I believe every teacher is doing his or her best to ensure our children are supported and learning.

So, when you are celebrating the blessings you have this holiday season, please show some grace for our teachers. It may be a small act of appreciation, but it will go a long way.

Lisa Huffman is dean of the College of Professional Education at Texas Woman’s University. This opinion has been published in the Amarillo Globe-News, the Brownsville Herald, the Denton Record-Chronicle, the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, the McAllen Monitor and the Valley Morning Star (Harlingen).

Page last updated 3:15 PM, December 1, 2020