By Craig Ford
This past week was National Teacher Appreciation Week, and certainly our educators deserve appreciation now more than ever.
Even in normal times our educators have a challenging job, trying to motivate their students and keep them focused and on pace with academic benchmarks. And as we all know too well, this last year has been anything but normal. In the best of circumstances, it can be difficult for a teacher to reach young minds and control their classrooms. But this year they’ve had to do it through bad internet connections or plexiglass barriers. In some schools, semesters have been interrupted (in some cases multiple times) with entire grades having to go virtual for two weeks because someone in the class tested positive for COVID-19.
Keeping students focused on their classwork is always a challenge, but with digital learning, teachers have had to do it when students have all the distractions of home to pull their attention away. And in some cases, students have completely fallen away because they did not have internet access – either because they couldn’t afford it or because the infrastructure in their area does not exist – or weren’t motivated enough to do their schoolwork while their parents were at their jobs.
Even for students who are highly motivated and work hard to learn in these circumstances, many simply have a harder time learning over zoom and digital lessons than they do with in-person classes.
Through all of this, our teachers have been on the front lines working harder than ever to try and break through these challenges and distractions to keep their students moving forward. And for that they deserve all the appreciate and credit in the world.
I’m glad to see that educators are getting a much-deserved pay raise in this year’s education budget, even though that raise is still far below what they ought to be making when compared to neighboring states or other professions that require similar levels of education and certification.
At the same time, I’m deeply saddened that, once again, our retired educators are being left out in the cold with no pay increase to cover their increased costs of living. State lawmakers seem to think that retired educators have done their service and no longer need or deserve a pay raise. It is frustrating and heartbreaking to continually see our retirees being abandoned by their elected representatives. Their expenses have gone up just like the rest of us, and yet lawmakers refuse to give them any help despite devoting their careers to serving our children. How these state lawmakers can turn their backs on the very people who educated them is beyond me. Maybe one day things will change, but today is apparently not that day.
So, as we honor our educators for the long hours and tireless (and often thankless) work they do, let’s remember our retired educators and their sacrifices, too. Now, you may be asking how can we celebrate our educators this week. A post on Facebook or Instagram is nice and appreciated, but is that all we can do? No, there are many other ways you can support local teachers.
One way is to support the programs they coach or sponsor in our schools. Parents may not realize how often teachers end up spending their personal money to provide things like materials, food and transportation for various school clubs and teams. Donating your time or money to the clubs and sports they coach can go a long way towards helping them and the team, as well as showing your appreciation for their work.
Other teachers spend their own money providing materials in their classrooms, basic things like paper towels, tissue paper and even pencils and notebook paper for students who do not have those things. Teachers often spend their own money to make copies of learning materials that the school cannot purchase. Ask your kids’ teachers what they need for their classrooms and then pick up a few things the next time you are at the store.
And there’s always gifts, too. Whether it’s a gift card to a restaurant or something more personal, you can never go wrong with a small gift. Even just buying their gas for them the next time you see them at the gas station can be a good way to say “thank you.”
There are many ways you can honor our educators, even if you do not have children or grandchildren in school.
Craig Ford is the owner of Ford Insurance and The Messenger newspaper in Gadsden. He represented Etowah County in the Alabama House of Representatives for 18 years.