By Jeannie Russell
The original meaning of the word “teach” in the Old German language that predates our modern English was “to show.” What do our teachers show us all in this third year of a global pandemic, mounting devastation from climate change, increasing suffering due to resource exploitation and unequal access to basic needs, and threatening impacts of war in the breakdown of respect for international laws?
They show us that in the face of truly existential challenges, we can put the care of our children, families, and communities as a whole at the heart of our daily lives, and they show us what that care really looks like.
It looks like struggling to adapt to a completely new structure for teaching during lockdowns — reaching out through frustratingly limited means to connect with, comfort, and keep learning alive for their students — as they themselves experience the anxiety, disruptions, and suffering that the pandemic has caused.
It looks like welcoming those students back into classrooms, amid ever-changing Covid mitigation demands, increasing anger and confrontations from parents as policies shift without clear guidance, and devastating understaffing due to illness, retirement, and resignations.
It looks like coming to terms with the social, emotional, and educational damage that the last two years of school, family, and community disruptions have inflicted on our youth, and adapting classroom practice, learning strategies, and support structures to begin to meet these needs.
It looks like late nights, weekend and vacation hours, and lost prep times spent managing crises and creating lessons that inspire engagement and growth while also remediating for skills that are lagging and foundational content that has been missed.
It looks like increasing efforts to reach out to parents as partners in learning, and into the communities they serve, to provide material supports and compassionate responses to the challenges they are experiencing.
It looks like bravely continuing to provide thoughtful, accurate context for understanding of the many complex, sometimes frightening, and unfortunately often contentious issues that even our youngest students are aware of and struggle to manage in their own lives: issues of justice, issues of environmental harm, issues of violence and global threats.
Teachers show us that we can confront the reactive anger that comes from suffering and fear with deep empathy and acceptance, and with an active, hopeful solidarity of spirit that insists on moving together toward positive goals with each new day, in spite of the setbacks or stumbles of the day before.
As teachers nurture a new generation through these challenges, they are our also our frontline messengers from a future we could have, where we all bring this level of respect, dedication, kindness, and strength of purpose to meeting our collective needs. They show us every day that a better world is possible, as its shining threads are woven — lesson by lesson, child by child, caring moment by caring moment — into their classrooms, schools, and throughout the fabric of the natural and human communities we all must share, and in turn nurture within ourselves.