(In honor of the 2020 National Teacher Appreciation Week May 4-8, Kentucky Teacher of the Year Erin Ball sends an open letter to all of the Commonwealth’s educators to thank them for their hard work during the COVID-19 pandemic.)
Dear Kentucky Teachers:
Thank you for your immediate response to these strange and strenuous circumstances.
Practically overnight, you were faced with the unprecedented challenge of facilitating remote learning. The news that our school buildings were closed with remote learning continuing for the remainder of the year has hit hard. Many of us anticipated it, but the reality of not returning to our physical facilities created heartbreak.
Non-traditional instruction was never intended to last this long or be a replacement for in-person learning, yet you immediately stepped up, showing that the state of public education in Kentucky has never been stronger.
The focus of my ambassadorship with the Kentucky Department of Education this semester had been to address the current teacher shortage by focusing on teacher recruitment. I was eager to promote our profession. When recruitment events were canceled and trainings shifted to assisting with online education needs, I was disappointed. However, our state has witnessed that the promotion of the education profession is already being delivered by you, Kentucky’s teachers.
We have seen it in our teachers across the Bluegrass hosting virtual costume parties, birthday celebrations and class workout sessions. We have seen it in teachers handing out meals and books, providing mental health surveys and digital check-ins for students. We have seen it in teachers hosting daily read-alouds, virtual spirit weeks and online talent shows. We have seen it across the Commonwealth with your creative celebrations of our 2020 seniors and holding “I miss you” signs during teacher parades through your students’ neighborhoods.
We have seen it in your relentless pursuit of your students. You have adopted new and foreign technologies to connect with your students. You have created TikTok videos for your middle schoolers and exciting virtual scavenger hunts for your elementary schoolers. You have provided daily poetry readings to your high schoolers and incorporated hilarious “Tiger King” memes into your AP assignments.
What power does this pandemic have over a compassionate teacher? Apparently none. You will stop at nothing to make sure your students are fed and nurtured and to ensure they know you are thinking of and missing them.
Some of you are first-year teachers and others may feel like a first-year teacher. Several of you are balancing teaching full-time while parenting full-time or caring for a loved one. Many of you are trying to help your students while also facilitating NTI work for your own children at home. Some of your families abruptly became one-income households. I know many of you are battling stress and anxiety.
Many of you are fearful you are not doing enough. You might be struggling to find the balance between assigning too much work or not enough, or between how or whether to score assignments. Your students don’t need a perfect teacher, just a present one.
Your students are craving connection with you, not perfectly delivered content. If you are showing your students they are missed and cared for, you are giving them exactly what they need. As everything around us is changing, you offer the steadfastness consistency our students crave.
Now, maybe more than ever, you are susceptible to burnout and fatigue. This is a different kind of “teacher tired” and it is intermingled with grief. We can’t afford to lose you in the fall. As this pandemic has affirmed, you are essential to our Commonwealth, our schools and most importantly, our students.
Please extend to yourself and your colleagues the same grace, patience and love that is being shared with thousands of students. Give yourselves space to grieve this loss. Add an extra recess to your day and take a whole lunch break. This will be the only time we can select our lunch schedule and restroom breaks, so do it. You are working from home, but practice self-care by having a clear end to your workday.
My most convincing pitch for the profession would pale in comparison to how you are promoting it. There is nothing I could say that is not on daily display through your selfless actions. Teachers are innovative, adaptable, engaging, dedicated, dynamic, hardworking, resourceful, collaborative and compassionate individuals. You are proving it each and every day. Even in a pandemic, you are working as hard as ever to address the behavioral, emotional, social, academic and physical needs of each of Kentucky’s students.
Rest assured, teachers, you are not alone. This is a collective and collaborative effort. You have overwhelming support from our state leadership. Your hard work is noticed and appreciated. I couldn’t be more proud to be a Kentucky teacher.
Press on, teachers. This too shall pass.
(Erin Ball, a language arts teacher at Georgetown Middle School (Scott County), is the 2020 Kentucky Teacher of the Year. She is currently on sabbatical at the Kentucky Department of Education and is a GoTeachKY Ambassador. Every student in Kentucky deserves an amazing teacher. Could that be you? Learn more about becoming a teacher at http://GoTeachKy.com.)