Celebrating teachers through actions

Bruce Lear: Teachers need support from policy-makers, and public schools need federal assistance in order to guarantee a safe and healthy environment for children in the fall. -promoted by Laura Belin

Teaching and singing the national anthem have a few things in common. Both are really hard to do, and someone who knows how can make it look easy enough for anyone to do it. But not everyone can.

If you don’t believe me, try remembering where those bombs burst, and try hitting that high note on key at the end. It’s not easy, just like parents forced to teach at home are discovering about teaching even one or two kids.

Yes, real teaching is really hard.

Recently we celebrated Teacher Appreciation week.  Also, in the midst of a plague, most Americans are recognizing the importance of teachers and public schools, realizing they are essential not only for our children, but for our whole community. The real question is, will that celebration last, and how will it translate into action after this crisis?

First, if the public really appreciates teachers, it’s time to make a sacred promise to vote only for candidates at all levels who hold public schools as a priority. I’m not talking about the candidate who suddenly remembers teachers around September of an election year, and announces they are some of my best friends or assures voters, “My second cousin is a teacher.”

I’m talking about supporting only those who either have a voting record or a firm commitment through actions to public schools and public-school teachers. Then, once they are in office, we need to hold them accountable for every vote.

If we’ve learned anything from the pandemic, it should be to listen to medical professionals more than to politicians about health issues. The same is true for education. Listen to educators about what is going on in your schools and what might be done to help. Stop believing the people who think they can teach third grade because they attended third grade. They can’t.

The second way the public might continue to celebrate teachers is to take a deep breath before attacking. One of the most frustrating things to a teacher is a parent who immediately decides they are the customer and therefore always right.

Before lashing out, I hope irate parents think back to that day in April 2020 when they tried to teach their one kid fractions, and it devolved into something akin to a scene from Saving Private Ryan.

Even worse is when the teacher attack is not done directly but in secret through a principal. A teacher bypassed may be blindsided when confronted with a parent’s allegation.

In these cases, some principals become unwitting allies in the teacher attack, because they fear being blamed by their bosses for an unhappy “customer,” or they cower at a lawsuit threat. A lesson from this time of involuntary homeschooling should be clear. Parents are not customers for the public schools. They are partners.

No, teachers aren’t always right or even always fair, but they deserve the benefit of the doubt, some civil conversation, and a moment of grace before a full-on attack.

The final action to continue the teacher celebration needs to come from Congress. As school potentially begins again in August, we want children to be as safe as possible to reduce the spread of COVID-19. It’s impossible to appropriately distance 30 kids crammed in a small classroom.

Schools will need smaller class sizes. The only way that is possible is with the federal government providing direct aid to public schools. Much like what was done during the financial crisis of 2008.  Without that, the teacher the public is appreciating this April may well have their jobs on the chopping block the next time teacher appreciation week rolls around.

Direct aid to schools needs to happen now in order to protect our children, or frankly public schools will not be able to guarantee a safe and healthy environment in the fall. Now is the time for the public to mobilize and advocate for Congressional action.

I understand craving a haircut or a nice sit-down meal in a restaurant, but isn’t protecting the public’s investment in our schools and by extension our future just as important?

The next wave of stimulus must include money to help public schools open without fear of massive state budget cuts. It’s time to get back to school safely and have gifted teachers face to face with our most precious resource, our children. That will only happen if appreciation morphs into action.

Bruce Lear lives in Sioux City and recently retired after 38 years of being connected to public schools. He was a teacher for eleven years and a regional director for Iowa State Education Association the last 27 years until retiring. 

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