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Perspective | Supporting and lifting up teachers in the world of COVID-19

The following is Mary Ann Wolf’s “Final Word” from the Aug. 1, 2020 broadcast of Education Matters –“Supporting and Lifting Up Teachers in the World of COVID-19.

I don’t know anyone who goes into teaching who doesn’t start out wanting to make a difference for kids. While serving as a teacher always involves many different contexts, age groups, and subjects, this year most educators are feeling like they are first year teachers all over again.

As states and districts are in the middle of making decisions about whether to offer in-person learning, all remote learning, or some hybrid of the two this fall, our teachers are focused on what they must do to meet the needs of their students. In March, teachers pivoted to remote learning overnight and without warning, and many have expressed that they are eager to use the skills they quickly developed and adapted back then so that they can support their students academically, socially, and emotionally, during this new year.

But in order for our educators — and, by extension our students — to be successful, there are several challenges we must address in order to lift up and support our educators at a time when they need us perhaps more than ever before.

First, we must develop and share with our educators and families the metrics by which we make decisions for transitioning from one school reopening plan to another. Teachers want transparency in how decisions are made, and we must continue to strive for this at the state, district, and school levels.

Second, teachers have shared just how scared they are for their own health, the health of their families, and the health of their students and colleagues. We must ensure that when teachers are required to be in school buildings, we have adequate supplies of Personal Protective Equipment, or PPE, as well as the cleaning supplies, staff, and protocols necessary to keep our educators safe.

Third, many of our teachers also have children of their own. They are trying to navigate this strange new world as parents, like so many of us are, while also teaching and meeting the needs of their students. We must develop community partnerships that meet their needs as parents, while they are teaching our children.

Fourth, social and emotional learning applies to students AND adults. As we move forward into the school year, we must check in with our teachers and understand where they are so that we can support their well-being. Where possible, we need to provide professional learning and other opportunities to help them in designing lessons in new ways. We must also remember to check in with them as people, not just as teachers.

Finally, I would be remiss if I did not point out the obvious: all of this support — for our educators, our schools, and our students — requires resources. Last week on our show, we highlighted the significant impact that unstable budgets could have on schools this upcoming year thanks to unexpected declines in enrollment. Superintendents and school leaders across our state are seeking help from our lawmakers by asking them to hold school budgets harmless and preserve the funding and resources that have already been appropriated for the 2020-21 school year.

During a time of great instability, our educators need stable funding so that they can continue to work toward delivering a sound basic education to all of our children this year, something we do not want to fall even further behind on achieving during this pandemic. North Carolina must act to strengthen our public schools.

Mary Ann Wolf

Mary Ann Wolf, Ph.D. has served as President and Executive Director of the Public School Forum of North Carolina since June 2020, bringing with her more than 20 years of educational policy and leadership working directly with schools and districts across North Carolina to improve equity and build capacity for innovation.