The word hero has been used to describe those individuals who are on the front lines during the COVID-19 pandemic. Individuals who fit the heroic description include doctors, nurses, emergency medical technicians (EMTs), service providers and a myriad of other brave and intrepid people who have worked diligently to combat the challenges of this unconventional year. As times have passed, and as other workers have provided essential services, a new population has been added to the list of personnel who have moved boldly to the front lines by providing a necessary assistance to a category of individuals who require special care and attention: our nation’s children. Teachers are heroes because of their dedication and perseverance to make teaching and learning possible for all children. More specifically, there are definitive reasons why teachers have earned the moniker of hero. Their qualifications are detailed in ten descriptions below.
- Teachers go to great lengths to reach every child and they do not give up on anyone.
An important component of a teacher’s role is to get to know each of the students entrusted to them. Stories abound as to the lengths our educators have gone during these times of turmoil. Many have personally visited their students at home, especially those who have not responded to enrollment requirements. Our educators have arranged for technology supplies to be delivered to ensure that students can access the online learning available to them. Some teachers have provided supplies to students whose families cannot afford them. Most importantly, teachers have made repeated personal contact with students who are struggling or who require more one-on-one attention. As former NBA star Magic Johnson noted, “All kids need is a little help, a little hope, and somebody who believes in them.” A youngster in my neighborhood has written across the driveway in large letters: Human beings risk their lives to save ours.
- Teachers make social-emotional learning a priority.
As the pandemic became more and more a reality and student isolation became commonplace, educators took to heart the impact COVID-19 was having on the mental state of our children. They realized that content and curriculum had to take a momentary backseat to the psychological needs of their students. When the new school year began, more and more of our teachers included the following practices in their daily routines:
- Building strong caring relationships with and among their children;
- Modeling empathy and teaching their students empathic skills;
- Helping students to become more aware of their own emotions;
- Including discussion starters that incorporate concepts such as impulse control and stress management in their daily lies;
- Planning learning experiences that will build a positive classroom culture.
In her book Social Emotional Learning and the Brain author Marilee Sprenger has the following dedication on the opening page: “I dedicate this book to all the students who needed an adult in their life to help them cope, overcome, and succeed. We didn’t know better. We are trying to do better.” This is how a true hero thinks.
- Teachers are finding ways to engage students emotionally and socially at the beginning of each class.
Conventional thinking of beginning each class with a warm-up dealing with content has changed for many individuals who understand how children on the other side of the screen might be feeling. Some instructors are beginning with a song their students might recognize while others will post a cartoon, emoji, or meme that will make their students smile or even laugh out loud. Still others may tell a short story or read an excerpt from a book and ask their students to react to it. True heroes who find themselves in difficult situations have to think differently. Determined educators understand that they must devise atypical methods to help students’ focus on their learning. Plus teachers may find that they are more relaxed when they move to the day’s lesson.
- Like doctors and nurses who do all they can to help patients recover and return to their homes to hopefully live a healthier lifestyle, teachers think more deeply about their time with children and the impact they will have in their lives over time.
Educator Marcela Montay-Wilson shared the following belief with her students: “As your teacher, my job is not only to help you learn and master our objectives and standards, but much more importantly, to help you become lifelong learners. In order to be those kinds of scholars, I need to give you space and time to ask yourself, ‘What am I curious about? What do I want to pursue?’” This kind of insight enables a teacher to set aside time for students to personally reflect on their learning experiences and to envision what their future might hold. Many teachers share Ms. Montay-Wilson’s belief because they see their profession as more than a series of lessons.
- Like hospital workers who work diligently to comfort their patients by offering encouraging words as they combat their illnesses., teachers are becoming more introspective and choosing the words they use with their students in a more conscientious way.
Teachers Katie Novak and Mike Anderson provide us with examples that may help students’ intrinsic motivation, sustain effort and persistence, and self regulate during COVID-19 and beyond. They carefully select the words they use with their youngsters so that their students feel like they have choices instead of simply following their teacher’s directions. Examples include:
- Instead of “I expect you all to…” try “Your next challenge is…”
- Instead of “I want you to…” try “What’s a goal you have?
- Instead of “Here are three things you need to do…” try “Here are three things to try as you….”
- Instead of “I’ve created some choices for you…” try “You have several choices to consider.”
They further suggest that rather than emphasizing a “good grade” refer to it as “high-quality work.” Rather than offering a reward for completed work, a teacher can ask her students about their goals for a particular assignment. When teacher phrase their words more carefully, students will view them as providers of support rather than someone who has power over them.
- Many teachers are reevaluating and revising their typical procedures and, as a result, they are minimizing screen time whenever possible.
Distance learning was a new concept to most individuals in the spring of 2020. Over time prudent instructors realized that studens can become susceptible to “Zoom gloom,” a feeling of attention fatigue from interpreting social cues through live video for prolonged periods. Teachers are applying different ways of thinking as they plan their sessions:Some teachers are limiting direct instruction time to 25-minute segments followed by short 15-minute breaks. They use the “chunking lessons” format to include an introduction, building background knowledge, formatively assessing where students are with the topic, and pausing for a break time. Some educators have found that it is important to cue students to stand up, move away from their computers, and do some form of physical activity.Other teachers are implementing the flipped classroom strategy during which students engage in activities much more similar to traditional homework. This learner-centered model has students working independently, in small groups, or with a partner. Additionally, they are able to access their teacher for help if and when they may need it.As several educators have written, “One of the biggest complaints about online school is the zombie-like after-effects of spending too much time on a screen.” True leaders in their field continually take steps to make sure they are giving the best service to their fellow man. Teachers are doing the same for their youngsters.
- Many teachers believe that the focus in the classroom should be on learning and not just grading, and that retakes on tests nurture growth.
They want their students to see mistakes as learning opportunities; instead of seeing themselves as failures, they should believe that they simply have not reached mastery…..YET. Writer and educator Kimberly Hellerich writes that students should believe that they can achieve success through motivation and perseverance. She notes, “I also provide opportunities for students to submit specific assignments for feedback so they can revise their work prior to the due date.” In order for students to embrace these beliefs, Hellerich begins each school year explaining the concepts of self-perception and mindset, and she shows her children the Carol Dweck TED talk entitled “The Power of Yet.” More and more educators are embracing this kind of thinking which is having a greater impact on learners’ engagement and belief in themselves. As teacher Michele Hope has written, “The only “F” that matters in the classroom is feedback.”
- Teachers, like all heroes, are continually making decisions that are leading to the best overall results.
They reappraise their way to doing things with the following question in mind: “Are my students truly learning and how do I know?” Nora Fleming of the George Lucas Educational Foundation has written a superb article, “7 Ways to Do Formative Assessment in Your Virtual Classroom.” She itemized what she calls “quick pulse checks” that are ways teachers can be more assured that the students are grasping key concepts. Among her many tangible suggestions are the following strategies:
- Dipsticks – The instructor poses a general question about the previous day’s lesson and asks students to respond through thumbs up or down, holding up a post-it or a piece of paper, or giving themselves a rating of 1 to 5 as a self-assessment.
- Digital journals and one-pagers – The teacher has students complete an after-class reflective piece of writing. Next, they create a “journal dot” online document using Google Docs to measure how well the students are retaining information.
- Virtual exit tickets – Educators can keep a running Google Doc for each students by using open-ended prompts such as:
- What I found most interesting today was…
- Today was hard because…
- What do you understand well?
- What’s something that’s still shaky?
- What’s something I (teacher) don’t realize?
- What takeaways will be important three years from now?
- How does this lesson related to something I learned before?
- How would you have done things differently today?
- Like so many care specialists, teachers experience frustration but continue to stretch themselves to impart an uplifting and optimistic message to their charges.
But heroes are still human. As teacher Sean McComb has stated, “We’ve all been there… a momentary, frustrated reaction to a student that’s more curt, less kind, and more gruff that it ought to be. Its root is embedded somewhere in our lack of sleep, or a floundering lesson, or unforgiving piles of paperwork.” During these moments, teachers rebound by displaying kindness, positivity, and even an apology. What is most important is what happens in the long term. “Cultivating a culture of trust in the shared virtual space involved building relationships and helping students build empathy and understanding for each other and you,” are important words from teacher Leah Henry. Heroes rebound and return to their goal of building that strong sense of community in their classrooms, continually reminding themselves that the best learning environment is rooted in positive personal relationships.
- Words that are synonymous with heroes are models, protectors, saviors, guardians and champions.
Teachers are all of these things and more. They continue to accommodate the needs of all children based on their on-going diagnoses of learner needs. A recent survey indicates that 80% of parents have a newfound respect for those in the teaching profession. Educators Erin Gohl and Kristen Thorson view the future this way: “Throughout this school year, we can be much more thoughtful and intentional about the distance learning experience. We can communicate with students and families about both short-term plans and long-term goals. We can provide engaging experiences and personalized pathways to learning for all students. We can create productive two-way channels with students and families for communications and support that can expand the reach and impact of the learning. And we can work to ensure that this year’s distance learning experience is rigorous, relevant, and has strong relationships at the core.”
Heroic teachers have big hearts. They often intuitively know and do the right thing. Robert John Meechan writes: “When you see something beautiful in a student, let them know. It may take a second to say, but for them it could last a lifetime.” See more Meechan quotes that celebrate the heroism of teachers at https://sites.google.com/site/bestrobertjohnmeehan/
Resources and References
Fisher, Douglas and Nancy Frey. “Three Lessons Learned About Distance Learning.” Teaching Channel, October 13, 2020.
Fleming, Nora. “7 Ways to Do Formative Assessments in Your Virtual Classroom.” Edutopia. October 1, 2020.
Gewertz, Catherine. “Teacher Tips: How to Reduce Screen Time When School Is Online.” Education Week, October 6, 2020.
Gohl, Erin and Kristen Thorson. “Strategies for Fostering a Productive Distance Learning Experience.” Getting Smart, October 3, 2020.
Hellerich, Kimberly. “Using Retakes to Nurture Growth Mindset.” Edutopia, October 5, 2020.
Montay-Wilson, Marcella. “Unstoppable Learning: Making Room for Students’ Passions.” Teaching Channel, March 24, 2016.
Novak, Katie and Mike Anderson. “How To Choose Words That Motivate Students During Online Learning.” Edutopia, September 15, 2020.
Sprenger, Marilee. “Social Emotional Learning and the Brain: Strategies to Help Your Students Thrive.” ASCD Express, September 2020.
Swan, Kathy, Andrew Danner, Megan Hawkins, S.G. Grant, and John Lee. “Zooming Inquiry: Online Teaching with the Pomodoro Technique.” Social Education, September 2020.