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This Thanksgiving, give thanks for public school teachers

SHARE This Thanksgiving, give thanks for public school teachers

John Arthur, Utah’s Teacher of the Year, right, walks with a few of his sixth grade students after the grabbed their lunches at Meadowlark Elementary School in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Oct. 1, 2020.

Steve Griffin, Deseret News

Because November is associated with Thanksgiving, it has also become a time when many of us count our blessings and reflect on the people and things that enrich our lives. The pandemic has highlighted for me several groups of people whose service fills me with gratitude. Perhaps it’s because I too am an educator, but the people that I want to acknowledge as continually going above and beyond with little fanfare are our amazing public school teachers.

While teachers always play a central role in society, right now they are expected to learn new skills overnight, change platforms with little or no preparation, balance the quality and quantity of content with quality contact, all with more pupils and less pay here in Utah than most of their peers nationally. In fact, at least according to one source, the average annual teacher salary in Utah is the fourth lowest in the U.S. and our classrooms have the third-highest student-to-teacher ratio. We must do better

Because so many of our educators see teaching as a calling instead of a job, most of them don’t think twice about working beyond their contract. There is no “overtime” for the teacher who spends evenings seeing who has and has not logged into Canvas the past week and emailing parents about their concerns hoping to reach students who have fallen off the grid. There is no bonus for the teacher who arranges Zoom calls on weekends to tutor kids that are falling behind. 

Let me state publicly that I am grateful for teachers who have pivoted from in-person to online-based learning, who have figured out how to record lectures and create supplemental guides without any experience or training in online learning. I am grateful for teachers who have taken Zoom by storm — and who may accidentally leave people stranded in breakout rooms — but keep doing their best.

I am grateful for teachers who carefully balance the needs of the group with the needs of the individual students, and who know that one size does not fit all. I am grateful for teachers who are patient with parents who want in-person learning, parents who want remote, and parents who don’t understand why teachers can’t effectively teach a class in person while using technology to live stream it to others. I am grateful for teachers who are endlessly adapting to a changing crisis with finite, insufficient resources and compensation.

In loco parentis” literally means “in place of the parent” and refers to the legal obligation teachers have to protect and serve their pupils. As someone who once taught middle school, I know the weight of that charge and how important the connection is between teachers and students. And even though I now teach students who are young adults, the obligation stays the same. 

I am grateful for teachers who are endlessly adapting to a changing crisis with finite, insufficient resources and compensation.

At the beginning of fall semester, one elementary teacher I know expressed what many were feeling: worry that she would not be able to bond with her class because it would be either all online, only partially in person, or a few days a week. “How can I connect with kids if we’re not actually together? How can I watch for cues of anxiety or comprehension?” But somehow, she and her class are forging meaningful connections, despite the distance, despite technical issues and despite uncertainty.

“The love is there,” she says. And sometimes that is enough — at least for now. 

Dr. Susan R. Madsen is the Karen Haight Huntsman Endowed Professor of Leadership in the Jon M Huntsman School of Business at Utah State University and the founding director of the Utah Women & Leadership Project.