Monday, May 4, 2020

Thoughts from the Classroom

                                           -Stephanie Burley
Three decades ago, Congress made a declaration which recognized teachers all across America.  They called it National Teacher Day, and for five years it was celebrated on March 7th.  In 1985, The National PTA took things a bit further and established Teacher Appreciation Week.  Since that time, Teacher Appreciation Week is celebrated annually the first week of May, with Tuesday being named National Teacher Day. That's a bit of information you may or may not have known, but the important thing to recognize is that teachers not only deserve our prayers and support, they desperately need it. Now more than ever. 

One of the greatest lessons we have learned through this national crisis is the importance of a strong yet flexible educational process.  If your children typically leave home and go to school each day, your world was upended mid-March as schools were shuttered and stay-at-home orders were issued with as little as a day's notice.  This has affected each family differently, depending on family dynamics, needs of the child, accessibility to curriculum and technology, and the preparedness of the school to pivot to a distance learning format.  What is the one constant in this process?  The teacher.

As a caring educator, the teacher is taking this opportunity to engage with students in a way that assures them of their individual importance.  She spends her days interacting, offering feedback, explaining difficult concepts, and giving the students a sense of security by being a constant in this ever-changing time.  Like you, she is adapting to circumstances for which she was unprepared.  Like your children, she is grieving the loss of the end-of-year celebratory events and the opportunity to close out the school year along side of her closest companions.  For many teachers, the 2019-2020 school year is the last in what may have been a lengthy tenure.  They are retiring or moving into a different career path.  This journey was supposed to culminate in celebration and reflection with students, parents, and co-workers as the school-year came to a close.  

Although we are now socially distanced, teachers have remained fully engaged.  So how can parents and students recognize and support our teachers during this special week?  Let me share some meaningful ideas:
  • Have your child create a card for the teacher and mail it to her.  An emailed note would suffice if you are unable to secure an address. In the note, have your child name a specific action or trait of the teacher for which he/she is appreciative.  For instance, "I love how you take extra time to help me in Math." Or, "Your field trips are my favorite!"
  • Take a meal to your teacher.  Everyone is busy right now, and teachers are no exception.  Days are long and often run into dinner time.  Maybe you can run lunch to her home at noon, deliver dinner to her family at six, or even just drop a dessert by her house for her to enjoy as she wishes.  Those acts of kindness are never forgotten.  An alternative idea is to order a meal for her and have it delivered.
  • Place a hanging basket of seasonal flowers on her porch or have a bouquet delivered from a local florist. 
  • Find out where your teacher has her vehicle's oil changed and give her a gift card for that service.  An alternative would be a gift card to a local car wash.
  • If the teacher doesn't have a membership to a local wholesale club, purchase one for her.
  • For coffee lovers, Panera Bread is currently offering a monthly coffee subscription.  Click here for details.  Gift cards to local shops and national chains are a great idea, as well.  As an alternative, a gift bag of coffee (or tea) related items or K-cups is a fun surprise.
These are just a few ideas varying from no cost to a larger investment, but the sentiment is the same, and I promise you, your thoughtfulness will make her day!

On a different note, maybe you are struggling in your relationship with your child's teacher and you're just not sure what to do.  Let me encourage you to pursue the following actions:
  • Pray for your child's teacher.  I don't mean just a passing "bless her" type prayer, but pray specifically for her.  Ask God to empower her to flourish in this season of upended expectations.  Ask Him to give her strength for her days.  There's a good chance that your child's teacher is taking care of/teaching her own children at home while she's supervising the students who are in her virtual classroom. These changes are significant to everyone, and your child's teacher is no exception.
  • Give your child's teacher the benefit of the doubt. If your child is struggling and the temptation is to blame the teacher, remember your child's teacher is human.  You may not be seeing the whole picture, so it's helpful to talk with your child and explain that you are sure that his/her teacher is doing her best.  Then stick with the problem to help find a solution.  Avoid speaking negatively of the teacher in front of your child.  That is counterproductive to building what needs to be a good and effective relationship.  Also keep in mind that, in many cases, teachers are simply carrying out instructions provided by principals and administrators.  They are seeking to meet mandates they didn't create, and this can create extra pressure, especially with so many new things happening quickly.  
  • Communicate with your child's teacher.  Begin by telling her that you are praying specifically and daily for she and her family.  Let her know that you understand that this time of virtual or distance learning is tough for teachers, parents, and students, and that you are willing to do everything you can to lighten her load and help your child succeed.  Then follow through with that.  If you or your child are frustrated, be clear and respectful in your communication with her.  Seek resolution, not further conflict. Be open to honest, constructive criticism.  I assure you, there is no place your child's teacher would rather be right now than in the classroom, fulfilling her God-given calling.  The best thing you can do for her during this time is to communicate well.
  • Look for the good in your child's teacher.  Personality clashes are a real thing, and they aren't necessarily a bad thing.  However, what we choose to do with them makes a huge difference in our relationships.  Your child may not like his/her teacher.  You may not like your child's teacher.  But that doesn't mean your child's teacher cannot be a positive force for good in your child's life.  If there are glaring problems creating lingering issues, of course, that could be a sign of further problems and you need to seek God's help and use the proper chain of command in securing a resolution.  Many times, though, frustrations are brought about by a simple misunderstanding or a personality clash.  How can you work through this?  Understand that your child's personality may be difficult for the teacher, as well.  All teachers have students who are more difficult for them to relate to than others, and a good teacher will make it nearly impossible for a student to tell the difference.  The best way for you to work through a personality clash with your child's teacher?  Look for the good.  Make a list of her positive qualities and find ways to weave those into your conversations with your child.  List the sacrifices she makes.  List the fun activities she plans.  Yes, even include the seemingly demanding assignments she issues.  All of those things are helping your child grow into the person he or she needs to be.  
As we head into the home stretch of the 2019-2020 school year, we realize it has taken a team effort between parents, teachers, and students to arrive at the completion of a successful term.  No one asked for this challenge, but we are meeting it in ways we never thought possible.

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