Several years ago, an artistic room-parent drew a muscular picture of me wearing a mask and a cape and posted it on my classroom door with the words, “You are our superhero!”
I kept the rolled-up poster for years. It was a thoughtful gesture of teacher appreciation and it made me smile each time I unrolled the butcher paper to remember what I had stored inside my embarrassingly full teacher closet.
Teachers study best practices to ensure time with students is well spent enhancing academic and social growth. We meet new students each year and work to strengthen the community of learners who often come from vastly different living situations and span wide academic and emotional ranges.
Research overwhelmingly indicates students need to work collaboratively. Teachers spend a lot of time at the elementary level practicing cooperation skills, sharing materials, gathering in small groups, sitting shoulder to shoulder or knee to knee; reading, writing, problem solving, and growing.
Many of these “best” small group practices are currently not the best for health reasons. Social distancing guidelines now require teachers to reevaluate everything we have studied to make sure we continue to engage young minds, albeit differently. Currently, teachers are on summer overdrive with many questions and concerns about new recommendations and when school resumes, overdrive will increase at least tenfold. How will we focus on continuous learning first and foremost?
School districts are certainly working towards that goal, but with an overarching uncertainty. More than any other subgroup, rest assured teachers want to know the plans. We want to know the plan for disinfecting, the plan for lunch, the plan for recess, the plan if a student gets sick, the plan if a teacher gets sick, the plan for substitutes, the plan for meeting the needs of students in the classroom and the plan for meeting the needs of those who prefer remote learning. Indeed, teachers are planners.
Teaching is a calling, and it requires knowledge of pedagogy, patience, flexibility and stamina. Any teacher will admit our profession carries a growing load of responsibilities. Before pandemic stress set in, some fellow teachers didn’t think the responsibilities could get any greater. Clearly, we were wrong. Superhuman mental, physical and emotional strength can now be added to the long list of teacher pre-requisites.
The 2020/2021 school year will be a challenging year for students, parents, and faculty at every school in Utah. From bus drivers and cafeteria workers, to paraprofessionals and teachers, to custodians and principals, adapting will be critical.
When things seem overwhelming, and they will, communicate with your child’s teacher. When you do, remember that teachers are also often parents themselves, or caring for aging parents, managing their own health issues, and juggling family dynamics.
It is no secret many young students believe their elementary teacher to be more like a superhero: Always present, never sick. Always positive, never overwhelmed. This school year, teachers need to be viewed as regular people who are dedicated to their profession and doing their best to adapt to change and stay healthy while simultaneously creating positive learning opportunities in multiple environments.
Teachers are not superheroes. We are professionals now faced with superhuman expectations and we will be doing our best for students in this historic time. Teachers will be wearing masks, but capes and kryptonite remain in fantasies.
Students are counting on teachers and parents to unite to create academic and emotional well-being. School success amid this pandemic will depend on our shared responsibilities. The mask without support will not be heroic enough.
Megan Mace, a second-grade teacher in Washington County, is in her 25th year of teaching elementary school.