When I was eight or nine years old, I loved playing “school” with my younger sister. My best friend Angie and I would spend hours creating worksheets and lessons for my four-year-old sister to complete, with time for recess and naps in-between. We must have done a pretty good job, because two decades later, my sister is a fantastic teacher in downtown Detroit!
Something about that love for school has stuck with me, too, as I work at a university and have found myself surrounded by teachers in my family and circle of friends. I learn a lot from them, and not just new vocabulary words from my English teacher sister. I continue to grow in my respect for the work they do while meeting complicated state and federal policies and expectations. And I have grown in compassion for the mental, physical, and emotional effort they put into their jobs — all to do the best they can for their students.
This week a number of my teacher friends and family members head back to work for a new school year. Given all the changes and challenges of 2020, I feel like they need more support than ever. So, I reached out to a number of the teachers in my life and, with their help, compiled this list of ways to lift up, encourage, fight for and be there for the teachers in your life.
1. Listen without judgement or assumptions
The teachers in your life want to be able to talk frankly about some of the frustrations or difficulties in their work without it seeming like they hate their jobs or want to quit. Especially at the beginning of a school year — and even more so in a year full of unknowns like this one — teachers want a listening ear and someone to ask, “how can I support you?”. Then, ask the same question a week later to follow up!
2. Show up and support when you can
My mom and sister both run drama programs at their schools, and in a normal year we make an effort to attend their spring productions. We love seeing the results of their hard work and creativity, and the kids love larger audiences!
Often teachers have to pay for school supplies in their classrooms, or they fundraise for it. If you have the financial means to, support your friends and family on their project on DonorsChoose (a website devoted to helping connect teachers with funds), or ask them what their students need this year.
3. Be an advocate for educators and education in your community
When you’re speaking with people, posting on social media, or voting, keep in mind not just the students, but also the teachers affected by local, state, or federal policy changes. Make sure you are informed by multiple sources and that you have made time to speak with actual teachers and understood what they are facing on the job and in the classroom. On an even smaller scale, build respect for teachers in your own home — help your own kids value their teachers and their work.
4. Understand this year isn’t easy for them, either
All of the teachers in my life are struggling with the many changes to what this school year will look like. The online teachers will miss seeing your kids in person, they are worried about the English language learners they teach being able to keep up virtually, and they are mourning the loss of things like choir performances or even opportunities for students to turn to one another and have a discussion. Other teachers are nervous about getting sick, or seeing their students get sick, or juggling in-person and online teaching at the same time. One teacher said she feels like everyone is a first year teacher again this year. So have patience and remember that you aren’t homeschooling alone — they are working hard and using all of their training, tools and creativity to make this work for your child.
Of course, there are other ways to support teachers in your life beyond these four. Bring your teacher friend a hot meal one evening during the first week of school. Send your teacher friends a text full of education-themed emojis (there are so many folders, books and paperclip options!) and best wishes for this new and wildly different year of teaching.
Let’s make sure our teachers know we are with them.