Teachers are heroes under normal circumstances. During a pandemic that has upended life as we know it, they are honest-to-goodness, bona fide superheroes.
The juggling of school and COVID-19 has been incredibly challenging, creating friction between officials, administrators, teachers, unions, parents and the public at large. Everyone has different opinions about what should and shouldn't be done, which sometimes conflict with what can and cannot be done and don't always line up with what is and isn't being done, and the result is that everyone is just … done.
And as is usually the case with education-related controversies, teachers are taking the brunt of it. Their calls for safe school policies have been met with claims that kids aren't at risk of severe COVID, as if teachers' health and well-being are expendable. Parents' frustrations with remote or hybrid learning are taken out on the teachers who are constantly scrambling to adjust to ever-changing circumstances that make everything about teaching more complicated.
But as Toledo, Ohio high school teacher Katie Peters says, teachers aren't looking for accolades. They're doing the jobs they love, even though they're incredibly difficult right now. What they do need is for people to understand what a teacher's day looks like and to extend them some grace.
Peters' TikTok video describing what she did one day as a teacher in addition to the six classes she taught has been viewed more than 2.5 million times.
After sharing that she taught six periods and subbed during her planning period, she said, “I helped a young man find safe housing. I found a winter coat for a girl who didn’t have one. I located a student's missing backpack and arranged for a Chromebook replacement for that student. I gave a student a little bit of cash for a haircut and made sure another student had enough food to last them through the weekend.”
She also comforted a student who had cramps, supported a student who was going through his first heartbreak, saved a student's art project with some super glue, walked a student to class so they wouldn't feel alone and wrote a card for a student who was struggling.
That was just during the school day.
After school, she had a meeting, tutored a student, then wrote a college recommendation letter for a student who brought her the request the day before it was due.
Then she spent four hours at home planning "fun, inviting, exciting lesson plans that could, at the drop of a hat, need to go virtual without any warning."
But Peters said she didn't want a single accolade. "No teacher I know wants a pat on the back or gratitude," she said. "What they do need is grace." She pointed out that doing all of these things are what teachers love to do and what fulfills them. But it's also why they're tired. The pandemic has made everything harder.
Peters said a piece of her was shattered when she read a comment in a community forum about her district going back to in-person learning, "Oh, it's nice the teachers decided to work again." As if teachers have not been working the hardest they ever have during all of the pandemic upheaval? Please.
"Nobody, in the history of ever, has been motivated by ugly," she said. "Loving kids is the purest form of beauty that exists—and it's always going to beat your ugly."
Peters told TODAY that negative comments make teachers feel defeated, which impacts their job. “I’m not sure how much people realize that their words carry over into our ability to care for their children,” Peters said. “We need you to hold space for us and understand that we are doing our best given the circumstances.”
People loved Peters' honest and heartfelt account of what teachers are experiencing and what they really need from the rest of us right now. Grace. Patience. Understanding. Not ugliness or blame.
If anyone who isn't a teacher has something negative to say and thinks they could handle the job better, they are more than welcome to get their teacher training education and certification and try their hand at it. Otherwise, give teachers the respect they deserve and the grace they so desperately need right now as they try to keep their hole-filled lifeboats afloat with paperclips and a hot glue gun.
Teachers, we see you. We've got your back. Hang in there.
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