March 25, 2020

Building the plane as it flies: A thank you to educators in a time of crisis

Author: Rachel Murat, 2020 New York State Teacher of the Year
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Caption: FILE PHOTO: 2020 NYS Teacher of the Year Rachel Murat at the State Education Department (Sep. 2019). Photo by El-Wise Noisette.

When you entered college to become an educator, you had a basic idea of what that would entail: working in a building with fellow teachers and staff toward a common goal of helping our students succeed academically and in life.

“Maslow before Bloom” — ensuring our children’s sense of safety and other emotional needs are met first so that they are prepared to learn — is the filter through which we have always worked as we seek new ways to provide a premier education to our students.

But what college or professional-development course could have ever prepared us for what we are dealing with right now?

The circumstances surrounding COVID-19 have challenged us in so many ways we never could have imagined.

And yet, we are rising to the challenge and beyond.

Educators are meeting the needs of their students in some amazing ways right now. We are helping parents quickly transition to their new role as home-school educators and providing a connection to our content through channels easily accessible to our students. Over a span of just a few days, we have redefined our school districts and our role as educators in an environment that is literally changing by the hour. We are quite literally building the plane while flying it through a hurricane.

I don’t believe our educational system is taken for granted. But I am not sure most people were aware of all that takes place behind the scenes to deliver the best education possible to our students. When a school district is successful, it means there are hundreds or thousands of educators working tirelessly to bring relevance to curriculum, help our struggling students find their voice, and provide accessibility to all that we do for all of our students.

I am proud of the way that educators have responded to this crisis. With little-to-no time to prepare, we have shifted our connections to students online. We have been posting on our class Facebook pages, holding Facebook live storytellings, holding videoconference meetings, participating in drive-by parades to express how much we miss our kids, recording book readings on YouTube and calling home to make sure our kids are okay.

We’ve sent out specifically tailored Google Forms and emails to our different constituencies — (parents, students and staff) — so that we can check on connectivity, mental health and food stability. We have opened up food-distribution sites and started making home deliveries to those living in food-unstable homes, and where there is no transportation to distribution sites.

I know that we are missing our students just as they are missing us. The foundational connections you made with them starting in September are what will sustain us all through this unprecedented time.

The information heaped upon us in regard to how to transition what we do in the classroom to online instruction has been coming at us like a firehose. And still we have shined.

You have stepped up and made keeping the connection with your students a priority. You took chances, tried new, creative approaches, and made this crisis seem as close-to-normal a situation as you possibly could.

All of you hold a very significant place in the lives of your students. Thank you for all that you have done to keep that connection open — not only to them, but their families, as well.

You should be proud.

Remember, the importance of your work extends beyond the walls of your classroom. As we have seen during this crisis, it also serves as the heart of your communities.

Rachel Murat, the 2020 New York State Teacher of the Year, teaches social studies at Maine-Endwell High School.

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