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School in 2020 is far from easy, but Utah parents and teachers make it work

Students at Woodrow Wilson Elementary School in South Salt Lake wear masks as the get on a bus to go home after their first day of school on Monday, Aug. 24, 2020.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

I am proud of Utah’s families and teachers for supporting each other to do what’s best for Utah’s children.

We keep seeing news stories about protests — people for masks in schools and people against masks. Some people want all online learning; some people want all in-person learning. Some people demand plexiglass in classrooms; others think those same pieces of plexiglass do more harm than good.

My observation, as a teacher and a parent, is that most families and educators are working together to get through a tough school year. I see parents and children coming to school and talking to their teachers about how the school is going to keep students safe and provide a quality education. I see principals working endless hours talking to parents, children and teachers to make sure everyone’s needs are met.

Teachers are working hard to do more than ever before. We are constantly keeping desks and doorknobs sanitized. We are figuring out ways to do science experiments while maintaining physical distancing. We are learning how to teach online. In the spring, we were unprepared for online learning. Now, most districts have invested in training and programs that will make online learning successful. Many teachers are learning new skills for digital instruction while also teaching in-person.

Students are working hard to do more than ever before. I see students reminding each other to pull up their masks and adapting to hybrid schedules and online learning. Students are distancing in lunch lines and at lunch tables. Our students are putting forth their best effort to learn in a stressful situation. There is no doubt that the pandemic and today’s politics are on our students’ minds. Yet, I see students staying focused and working hard to learn.

Parents may be working the hardest of all. Thank you to all of the parents in Utah. You are balancing the worries of your children, the worries of your jobs, and the difficulties of hybrid and online learning models. If you’re like me, then you are having frequent conversations with your children about what is happening in the world. Every day, my son asks me about something he heard from a friend. He hears different things about masks, the presidential election, social justice, law enforcement or football games. Helping our children understand what’s happening in the world while reassuring them that we will keep them safe is a hard job. These conversations build our children’s character and define their values. I prioritize these conversations and I model being thoughtful and respectful.

What I hear over and over again from families and teachers is mutual support. Teachers are teaching all of the standard content to their students and helping students and parents navigate a new online world. I appreciate that most teachers are professional and kind in these interactions. It’s not about judgment or politics, it’s about working together for our children’s benefit.

I hear parents offering to volunteer and provide supplies to classrooms. I hear parents thanking teachers and modeling kindness and respect. More than ever, parents are asking about what is being taught and how it is being taught.

Raising children has never been a particularly easy task. Raising children in 2020 is especially tough. I’m thankful that Utah’s families and educators are working together. I see far more positive than negative. Schools are focusing on keeping students safe while providing the best education they can. Despite what I see in the news, I observe that most teachers and parents are setting aside personal politics and working together for the benefit of our children.

We all have the same goal: bright futures and great opportunities for our children. Thank you, Utah; I’m proud that we are working together to make it happen.

Tony Zani is a candidate for the Utah State Board of Education. He is a National Board Certified Teacher and an Army veteran. He currently works as a literacy specialist in a Title I school.