Teachers are a very special group. My mother was a teacher. Many members of my extended family are teachers. I’m married to a teacher. I also run an education technology company that employs teachers to guide students in learning how to build with technology. In essence, I have the utmost respect and the highest regard for teachers. In many ways, one could argue that everyone who has ever learned anything was at some point guided by a teacher. When you ask people who had the most impact in their lives, they will often fondly remember a teacher who inspired them in some specific way. For me, it was my high school math teacher, Mr. Kendrick. He really made math fun and two engineering degrees later, I still remember one of his favorite ways to get us to remember a key concept - “If you can’t factor, then you can’t reduce”.
Given my high respect for teachers, why wouldn’t we just nominate a teacher for Teacher of the Year?
In many ways, teacher have much more preparation for circumstances like this than parents have. This is not to say that parents were unprepared. Instead it’s a recognition that parents all around the world have stepped into a key role in a very short period of time to guide their children in what is likely one of the most difficult jobs on the face of the earth - teacher.
The reality is that what parents have been asked to do over the past several weeks is an amazing testimony to their resilience, grit and perseverance in the face of incredible challenge. As recognition for what they have accomplished and are continuing to achieve, parents should win the 2020 Teacher of the Year Award.
To contextualize this, let’s look at a teacher’s typical journey into the classroom to see how that compares to what parents have had to face over the past several weeks.
Teachers receive very specific education on the pedagogy of instruction. They study the theories and best practices for the best ways to impart knowledge to their students.
- Plan lessons that teach students subjects, such as reading and math, and skills, such as studying and communicating with others
- Assess students to evaluate their abilities, strengths, and weaknesses
- Work with students individually to help them overcome specific learning challenges
This typically occurs over a period of 4 years for those with a bachelors, 6 years for those with a Masters and 8 or more years for those with a doctorate. At the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, you must have at least 120 hours of credit before you can earn your undergraduate degree.
As a whole, teachers are a well education group of professionals.
Since teaching is so important, you aren’t able to just jump into a classroom. In fact, most teachers spend their final year of their undergraduate degree student teaching. Under the guidance of an experienced educator and university advisor, they are able to put their educational study into practice.
With an experienced teacher to help their apprenticeship, they are able to learn and refine their skills. For many educators, they look back on their student teaching experience very fondly because it helped grow them into the professionals that they are today.
In addition having the chance to observe a teacher in the real world and participate is a rich learning environment that really prepares teacher for success in the classroom.
For many public districts, teachers are required to be certified at the state level. This means that someone off the street can’t just decide to be a teacher and begin working with students. Instead, the state that they are working in requires them to pass a test to demonstrate their competence and capability.
Not only this, but many teachers are required to have a specific number of continuing professional development hours each year to make sure they are continuing to invest in their specific skillset.
With their education, training, and certification we should not be surprised that teachers are amazing. Add to this their passion for investing in the next generation and you have a perfect combination of qualification and interest that propels many to success regardless of the field.
Despite the education, training, and certification most teachers struggle in their first year. They find teaching much more difficult than they ever imagined because of all the different variables involved. And, they find themselves spending a tremendous amount of time outside the classroom figuring out ways to improve. During this time, many are partnered with a more senior teacher or teachers in the building to help work through and resolve these challenges.
If we juxtapose this with the current environment that many parents find themselves in, it is a very different scenario. Instead of having the benefit of education, training and certification parents have had to re-adjust their entire world in a very short period of time.
Yet, for parents, there is nothing more important than their kids getting a great education. We can see this in the decisions that parents make about where to live and the schools in which they enroll their children.
In many ways, parents are receiving the materials that teachers are often able to effortlessly use with the students in their classrooms. However, these supporting worksheets and videos are out of context. While parents understand that they are designed to teach their children, they have never had the training or the experience to put them into practice.
Since parents want the best for their kids, they are trying to figure it out quickly so their kid is continuing to learn and also not falling behind their peers. However, this is an unrealistic expectation. We know that teachers study, train, and certify before they are ever allowed to lead a self contained classroom. Parents did not receive a similar level of preparation due to the unforeseen nature of this public health crisis.
Despite these challenges, parents are figuring it out. They are transporting themselves back to 3rd or 4th grade math, 6th or 7th grade language arts or high school physics. And, they are learning quickly. Within just a few weeks, they are learning how their kids learn, how to motivate them, how to back off when they are getting frustrated, and how to explain concepts in many different ways to help their children get unstuck.
Parents are also doing this without the benefit of the normal stress relievers that kids normally have: the opportunity to socialize with their friends, the ability for parents to socialize with their friends, and the capability to discuss what is working and what isn’t with peers. And, many of them are still working hard to satisfy their professional responsibilities so that they can continue to keep a roof over their children's heads and food in their stomachs. This is not easy!
For this reason, I think that every parent who has stepped into the role of teacher while managing their careers should be honored with the ‘2020 Teacher of the Year Award’. At some point, students will go back to school. But, in the interim you all are holding things down and that should be recognized for just how amazing it is.