When we flip that calendar page to August, a variety of feelings emerge.
The “excited to return to school” and the “oh no, school again” emotions combine with everything else in-between. The uncertainties and frequent changes of the past couple years have left us hoping for normal but not sure what that will look like.
Families and educators navigated through difficult and unpredictable times. E-learning, mask wearing, social distancing, disaster and shooter drills; it all took its toll and left frustrations and worries. It seemed as though no one could catch up, and although everyone worked harder and longer than before, it never felt like enough. Not enough time with students, not enough time with family, not enough time with colleagues, not enough time to stop and take a breath.
Teachers became overwhelmed and unappreciated, and the disrespect shown to school employees reached a new level. People yelled at school secretaries because the lunch menu changed and complained about mask mandates and e-learning. Bashing teachers on social media became the thing to do.
How did we become so quick to lay blame, so divided? Multiple crises and we fall apart?
I have worked with many educators during my career. Know this: they became teachers and school personnel because they truly care about your children and want them to be successful. People working in education see it as a calling, not just a job.
And they are good at it. Nobody is trying to brainwash children; the end goal is to give them the tools and ideas to become lifelong learners and productive members of society. But that becomes difficult when children talk back and refuse to do their schoolwork. It’s tough when staff members are frequently pulled to cover other positions because there is a substitute shortage. Juggling in-person and e-learning is twice the work. There are legitimate worries about schools being attacked and people being harmed. No wonder record numbers are leaving the profession.
They want to nurture and care for students and create a welcoming environment where everyone is accepted. But that requires more support. Teachers are not glorified babysitters but professionals who can and should be trusted to teach and inspire. Value what they do and allow them to do it.
There is a huge disparity among districts, especially in Illinois, and that will continue until we stop using property taxes to fund our schools and instead create a fair distribution that gives all schools equal money to create more equitable opportunities.
Within our state, there are districts that have 35-plus children per classroom, no school library, limited extracurricular programs, no STEM classes, and few air-conditioned buildings. The people in those schools are at a disadvantage through no fault of their own. We owe the best education possible to all students, and everyone deserves to get what they need. More testing is not the answer; proper funding is.
We have a fresh start right in front of us; let’s approach this school year with a positive attitude on all sides. Put your children to bed on time, read to them, make sure they do their homework, and talk about how the day went. Model respect, reach out to help in a classroom, attend PTO meetings and school events, and maintain open communication. We must be ready and able to work together so everyone can learn and grow.
We rise by lifting others.
Let’s do it.
- Karen Roth is a semiretired librarian/educator living in Ottawa. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.