Last Tuesday morning, I dropped by my former school to greet a group of students and teachers who had arrived from France the night before. Unbeknownst to me, I walked into a situation that quickly heightened into some tense moments as threats made via social media the night before began to circulate through our community.
After checking in on the folks in the front office who employed an amazing spirit of calm and compassion in answering every phone call and helping every parent, I headed back down to the cafeteria where a group of parents were setting out a wonderful breakfast, pushing aside their own nervousness to make sure every visitor to campus felt safe and welcomed.
While I stood back and watched our American and French students getting to know each other over bagels and doughnuts, I instinctively scanned the room and thought about where we would move the students in the event of an emergency and how we could communicate that plan with students still learning English. After breakfast, I watched as parents lined up through the parking lot, patiently signing their children out of school for the day.
Here’s the thing: I knew in my heart we were safe the whole time. The school leadership, district administrators and local police worked together in a seamless execution of a safety plan. I trusted their confidence and assurance that everything was fine. I never questioned, even for a minute, that something would happen. Social media and middle school are awkward friends, and we know that overly dramatic words often lead to heightened emotions and fear. In a building full of people I love so dearly, I trusted the plan.
But what if? What if I had been a parent instead of a visitor that day? Could I have trusted that my children would be safe knowing I could never live with myself if I rolled the dice the wrong way? What if I had been a student? Would I have fought back tears in an attempt to convince myself I was safe? What if the very worst fear of my teacher heart had come true and I had to stand in front of my students in the midst of an absolute nightmare? What if?
The reality is that there shouldn’t be a “what if.” I should not have to talk to my nine year old daughter about lockdown drills and what to do in the event of a crisis in her classroom. I should not have to think about whether I would sacrifice my children’s mother to protect my students. I should not have to scan whatever room I’m in for the thickest wall away from glass windows. I simply should not.
But all the “should nots” in the world don’t change the fact that our teachers do.
Our society has placed value on so many things ahead of the needs of our children. In our schools, teachers crowdsource the resources they need through organizations like DonorsChoose in order to provide students with what they need to grow, while politicians argue about what to fund (or not-fund) in the media spotlight. Policy-makers who have never worked in a school make decisions about curriculum and resources without valuing and honoring teacher voice or expertise. Federally mandated funding levels continue to be underfunded and low on the priority list, and teachers are constantly villainized for not doing more (with less) to meet the increasingly diverse needs of ever-expanding class sizes. Test scores often rooted in tainted research and inequitable practice serve as measuring sticks of effectiveness, and respect for educators is less frequently demanded or given.
And yet, early this morning, alarm clocks started going off at 4:30 am (and even earlier), as teachers got up to begin preparing for the day. Again and again, they get up and they show up for our students. Assuming the roles of teacher, counselor, nurse, mother, advisor and friend, our teachers show up everyday because they refuse to let “what if” take hold. These heroes give the very best of themselves to change the lives of students each day, and we are all better for the impact they make in so many lives.
As the calendar turns the page to May and we begin to celebrate Teacher Appreciation Month, let’s try a different kind of “what if?”
What if we all took a moment to thank a teacher making a difference in the lives of students right now?
What if we supported a classroom need for our children’s teachers?
What if we advocated for policy that supports students through teacher expertise?
What if we shared a positive story from our schools on social media?
What if we chose kindness in our communication?
What if we offered grace?
What if we made sure our teachers know that what they do matters, and that we see them and are indebted to their passion and the sacrifices they make each day?