Five Things Teachers Wish That Congregations Knew . . .
Dr. Sherry Martens is Associate Dean of Education and Assistant Professor of Education at Ambrose University
Just over five short months ago, classrooms emptied and school hallways were silenced. All that had been planned for curriculum, assessment, field trips, and celebrations suddenly stopped and teaching, as we knew it, shifted. Within days, teachers completely changed the way they worked with children and learned new tools that would allow for schooling to continue, at home. It did not make front-page news and unlike other conversations about essential workers, the story slipped into the background, except for the occasional meme on social media joking about how much parents were missing teachers. Now, the front-page news is of parents asking the government to consider how schools may safely reopen and their message is not always well-received. We know that families are making difficult decisions about how their student will experience school this coming Fall, be it in person or on-line. Now, more than ever do we need the support and prayers of our community.
As a former teacher and school leader who now prepares future teachers, I have been listening to the stories being shared behind the screens as a way to bear witness to what teachers wish you knew about the reality of schooling during COVID 19 and what we are considering as schools reopen in the next few weeks.
1. The way we want to work with students has shifted, in light of COVID-19.
For some, this means trying to imagine how the number of students who need to inhabit our classroom spaces can possibly happen in light of social distancing requirements. Class sizes of up to 25 in primary grades and higher still in upper elementary and secondary are the norm and it is physically impossible to maintain adequate distances even if all other furniture is removed. Teachers have spent the summer moving all furniture and personal items out to be able to accommodate seating. Tables, not desks is also the norm in most schools as it is more conducive to the collaborative approaches that are recognized for optimal learning. There is more to teaching and learning than the regurgitation and memorization of facts. Teachers are anxious how they will be able to provide the best opportunities for learning that include students moving around in a classroom, utilizing multiple learning tools and collaborating with others while still making sure that all touch points are sanitized and other requirements are met. They are anxious how they will be able to keep students safe with masks, not touching their face or keeping their hands clean. This is particularly true in elementary settings where it already difficult. We need your prayers of protection.
2. We know that the students who suddenly left our schools last Spring have changed.
They may be experiencing gaps in their learning as parents and families attended or could not attend to schooling over the past months. They will be experiencing their own disbelief, fears and anxieties perpetuated by perhaps families, social media and their conversations with peers. Our most important work, whether that is in an online or face to face classroom is to ensure the mental well-being of our students. We need open hearts to see who may be struggling and wisdom to know how best to support them and each other.
3. We are doing our best to look after ourselves and our own families, perhaps dealing with our children or family members who may be ill.
We are grieving the loss of familiarity and maybe more emotional, not coping with the increased stress that we are experiencing. We will not be sharing those stories but do as we always do, be present, and hopeful for our students. We need your prayers of understanding as you see the many roles that we carry out.
4. We are already worrying that we are not doing enough or what we are doing isn't good enough.
We know that we play an instrumental role in opening up our communities so that students can return to classrooms and parents can return to work. This does not mean that we will be cast as heroes, rather, we are usually cast by the media in a far less positive light. We need support from our congregational communities, not derision or blame.
5. We have missed our students desperately.
We mourned the rituals of year-end concerts, graduations, and the simple act of saying good-bye. Some left the profession in June after many years of teaching without the usual celebration or recognition. Some have made the difficult decision to leave the profession simply because they cannot do this work any more. The activities that draw us closer as a community-assemblies, parent gatherings, concerts, sports and plays will not occur. Students will also be deeply effected by the absence of these activities that for many are the reason that they continue to come to school.
We need our church communities to hold our schools, its teachers and students in prayer. If you can, let your student’s teacher know how much you appreciate what they have been doing, successfully, over these past many weeks. Let them know as a church, you are there to offer support. The planning that is happening at this point in the year for the coming school year is complex and asks schools to be flexible more than ever. By the grace of God, know that whatever happens, teachers will do as they always have, embrace the situation with open hearts, and do their best for the children and families they serve.
What We Are Reading
The Divine Conspiracy
It may seem somewhat odd to recommend a book with a more philosophical bent in a publication dedicated to flourishing congregations, but there is good reason for such a move. Dallas Willard’s Divine Conspiracy integrates biblical theology, popular culture, spiritual disciplines and even science to paint a picture of what it means to be an apprentice of Jesus. The springboard for this thoughtful work is Jesus’ sermon on the mount, and in particular the Beatitudes. What he in fact describes is a flourishing life. Though not an easy speed-read, it is rich and well worth the investment.
Dr. Bill McAlpine is Professor Emeritus at Ambrose University
Limited time offer of a free download of an article by Arch Wong, Bill McAlpine, Joel Thiessen, and Keith Walker on preparing leaders for ministry from the perspective of pastoral leaders and theological educators, clicking here.