In March, life as we know it changed in what seemed like the blink of an eye, causing layoffs, significant shifts in social norms and, in some cases, a complete overhaul in “traditional” professional practices.
The best example of a professional sect that was forced almost overnight to upend their professional way of life were the nation’s teachers. As school districts closed one after another in the days before spring break, educators were left with one option, adapt.
Allie Lindow, a second-grade teacher at Country Heights Elementary School, and the school’s second-grade team have been utilizing various forms of “Non-Traditional Instruction,” through new uses of technology, phone calls and historic levels of communication to aid students and their families through mandatory homeschooling, she said.
“One thing we are doing as the second-grade team is recording all of our lessons along with doing instruction online,” she said. “We are trying to maintain structure and normalcy, that is why we feel that they should see our faces during instruction. I definitely think that this experience that our nation is going through sheds some light on what educators do on a daily basis. As an educator and as a family of educators, it has been a wonderful experience to see this collaboration between families and teachers take place.”
While it is difficult to find a silver lining in the time of COVID-19, one benefit that has shone through is that the bonds between teachers and families are becoming stronger than ever before, said Laura Murphy, Daviess County Middle School language arts teacher.
“The transition was a major adjustment,” she said. ‘It caused us to stretch the methods that we were using and making adjustments for families that don’t have access to the internet or computers. It was the biggest adjustment I have had in 11 years of teaching. We are bonding with parents and students in such a deeper way. I have spoken more with parents that normally wouldn’t respond much to parent contact. It has been wonderful to have a stronger line of communication and work together toward the same goal.”
This strengthening bond with families who have taken notice of the almost Herculean feats of educators could have a strong impact on society’s perception of teachers and what they do, said Lindow.
“I think families are seeing what we are doing,” she said. “The interaction has been positive and they are seeing that I am as much of an advocate for their children as they are. Our calling is to our students. I will show up every day to do what I can for my students. I feel that this time has shown the heart of teachers and how we are willing and able to step up when we are called upon to do so.”
Even teachers are taking notice and in “awe” of the steps their own children’s teachers have taken, said Murphy.
“This has certainly changed the public perception of what teachers do on a daily basis,” she said. “Even with my own kids, I am in awe of what their elementary teachers have done to play review games, instruct, do check-ins on live chats (and) hold Zoom meetings. I, speaking as a parent, have taken for granted what goes into being an elementary school teacher. I hope this experience translates to our legislators and they will see the value of public education and teachers.”
Prior to COVID-19, Kentucky’s legislators often seemed unresponsive to the resource needs of Kentucky teachers in their proposed budgets, sometimes going against the very tenets of Gov. Andy Beshear’s proposed “Education First” budget. However, moving forward, even the political perception of teachers may change, said Beshear.
“As with all difficult situations, our heroes rise to the occasion and our educators have been no different during this trying time,” he said. “Our educators and support personnel have shown us how truly dedicated our public school employees are with them delivering food to students and continuing to make every effort to teach and reach out to their students.”
While sacrifices are being made across the board in response to the pandemic, including the state’s budget, Beshear fully intends to continue his “Education First” initiatives, he said.
“I am hopeful our lawmakers will increasingly see our teachers are one of our most valuable resources in improving our economy and the lives of our people,” he said. “We are all making sacrifices and that will include my budget proposal as we focus on stopping the spread of this virus and protecting the most vulnerable. We must spend more on our students, fund the pension for our teachers and boost teacher pay to help address our teacher shortage, and I hope legislators will join me to prioritize education and our educators.”
Beshear’s mindset is equally shared with state education lobbying groups, like KY 120 United, the Kentucky School Boards Association and the Kentucky Education Association. As the rhetoric and perceptions surrounding educators become more positive, the elevation of the profession post COVID-19 is almost limitless, said Eddie Campbell, KEA president.
“We have always said we have amazing educators,” he said. “Whether teacher, aide, food service, custodian; all of those individuals are educators. This situation has really highlighted how important these people and public education are and why the profession needs to be preserved and elevated. I think on the Hill there will be a bigger and a more deliberate push to give educators all of the resources they need and those discussions are happening now. Our educators have truly spread their wings and shown what they can do as professionals.”
Jacob Mulliken, 270-228-2837, firstname.lastname@example.org