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Opinion: Educators deserve praise for flexibility during pandemic

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“When you see a great teacher, you are seeing a work of art.” These are the words of Geoffrey Canada, an American educator, social activist and author, stated in a documentary about how schools in the United States are failing kids.

I remember watching the film, “Waiting for ‘Superman,’” 10 years ago. The tragic stories of children with big life dreams and goals who were trapped in failing schools with underperforming peers and unmotivated teachers moved me to tears. I felt a weighty burden for the families and the children who lacked access to quality education. Author and speaker Rebekah Lyons reminded me recently, “Calling is where your talents and your burdens collide.” For those of us who choose to be educators, our students, classrooms and schools are where burdens and talents collide. Educating and equipping tomorrow’s workforce with this kind of passion is certainly a calling and a work of art.

In the Springfield area, we are blessed with thriving schools in supportive neighborhood communities with engaged families and hard-working students. Our local schools are effectively preparing our students for the future as evidenced by Springfield Public Schools’ highest graduation rate in its history at over 93% earlier this year. These thriving schools are made possible through the people in our community who could select a career in any field but choose to build our community’s future through investing in our children as professional educators.

In the midst of a pandemic that led to alternate learning plans and schedules, quarantining policies for students and educators necessitating online learning options on demand, and the added stressors of masking and social distancing, educators continue to engage our students with care, creativity and unprecedented adaptability. These education heroes deserve our highest praise. So let’s thank them:

For prioritizing relationships. Communication from our local school district administrators and teachers consistently expresses the care and concern for the well-being of our children. Local educators understand the basic human needs for love and belonging. Whether learning opportunities are offered online or in a classroom, students are consistently more motivated to learn when they know they are known and valued by their teachers.

For being intentional. In a typical week, Education World reports teachers spend an average of seven hours lesson planning, plus five hours creating their own instructional materials based on the needs of the students in their classes. Most teachers are provided less than four hours of planning time, leaving eight additional hours of work per week.

For being flexible. Currently, educators I interact with estimate the typical teaching workload has doubled due to pandemic-related challenges. Often lessons must be available for students in the classroom and those online, with student needs changing hourly, daily and weekly. Educators must work together to create policies and procedures to abide by Springfield-Greene County Health Department guidelines, including contingency plans to accommodate various scenarios with students. Flexibility requires educators to selflessly lay down their own agendas and preferences in order to be nimble.

For persevering. After navigating emergency online instruction last spring, experiencing a summer of unrest and awaiting family’s school choices for this fall, school began for the first time in both online and seated formats. Some were assigned to or chose to teach online and others welcomed smaller groups of students, fewer days each week to their classrooms, but all teachers arrived with a spirit of perseverance, ready to tackle together whatever school might need to look like for our community this year. From our teachers in early childhood to high school administrators to our university professors, our students are learning lessons about perseverance in addition to learning the content in each class.

For showing us hope. With the shared value we place on education in the Springfield area, our educators continue to find ways to bring us hope daily through keeping our schools open. Our schools are a beacon of hope in our community during this challenging time. This is the hope for the bright future we all have to look forward to together as we educate the next generation of community leaders.

Next time you encounter an educator in our community, join me in extending an encouraging and heartfelt thank you for their inspiring investment in our students and our future.

Shonna Crawford is the chair of the education department at Evangel University. She can be reached at crawfordsh@evangel.edu.

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