Thank a Teacher
One of my favorite bumper stickers says, “If you can read this, thank a teacher.” My daughter, Maddy, started teaching first grade at an elementary school in Brooklyn this year, which makes her the one charged with starting children on their reading journey. First grade is especially challenging because children enter at different stages of readiness, from already fluent readers to ones who’ve rarely held a book in their hands. In addition, New York City’s age cutoff is the end of the year, so many of her students are only five years old.
It took several years for Maddy to land a first grade assignment — her top choice ever since she student-taught in that grade and discovered she was a natural for it. She loves her “babies” and rejoices in the progress they’ve made, not only in their subject areas but also in their embracing of classroom routines and the kindness with which they treat each other and newcomers to the class. She’s made notes of things she plans to do differently next year, having learned by trial and error how to create assignments that deliver the objectives she wants versus ones that aren’t at the students’ level or are too open-ended. She intends to communicate with parents earlier in the year about the negative effects that screens have on children’s attention span, social skills, and willingness to tackle more challenging work.
Given her commitment to teaching and love for her students, imagine her response (and mine) to a letter the teachers received explaining why the New York City Public Schools will not be closing (as of now) due to the coronavirus pandemic. On the surface, the reasoning made sense. Many children in the city rely on school breakfasts and lunches for their daily meals. Besides, many parents of NYC schoolchildren work in health care, and they need to be available when severe coronavirus cases flood the hospitals — not sitting at home taking care of their out-of-school children. But my daughter’s, and her colleagues’, reaction was, “They think we’re babysitters!”
Many of the young children at her school are terrified. They hear the news and sense the worry of elders and siblings. If they, in fact, have parents who work in health care (and in her neighborhood, they do), the parent may not be able to come home for days or weeks at a time. Like its predecessor SARS virus, COVID-19 has already taken a disproportionate toll on health care workers in China, Italy, and Iran. She is committed to creating a safe and calm learning environment for her children, one in which they now have to teach proper handwashing and how not to touch their face to little ones who may still suck thumbs and eat boogers. “I’m probably already infected,” she told me. She is young and healthy, but her parents and grandparents aren’t, and her brother and his wife are in the middle of a high-risk twin pregnancy. Essentially, she is cut off from seeing the rest of her family, even though we live in the same city.
Maddy understands the sacrifice that everyone has to make and is willing to be part of it. But we’d all like to see the city’s leaders acknowledge that the teachers, like the health care workers and the first responders, are heroes in this war and deserve our thanks for their service. They are making it possible for parents and other family members who treat the sick to do their jobs, knowing their children are safe, cared-for, valued — and, despite everything else that’s going on, learning.
Update: At the end of last weekend, city leaders, following discussions with unions representing both teachers and health care workers, closed the schools, with provisions for school lunches and daycare for first-line workers and first responders. This week, teachers and administrators are meeting to utilize methods for online learning. Maddy and I are working on a project that involves photos from my Lego town as writing prompts. I plan to post some of those photos in future blog entries so other teachers can use them too.