Building Community: One at a Time

June 25, 2020

Yesterday a local farmer stopped me. “COLLEEEEEENNNN” his voice boomed from his truck across the yard, “I GOT A QUESTION FOR YA’, are teachers still gettin’ their full salary?” With schools still shuttered, students and teachers working from home, the budget vote just behind us, and mail-in ballots still waiting to be counted, this taxpayer was concerned.

Unfortunately many are under the false assumption that with school now forcing students and teachers to work out of their homes, that teachers are in some way doing less, or not doing their full-time job which typically means 20, 25, or 125 students face-to-face each day. That couldn’t be further from the truth.

Consider the lightning speed at which the change occurred. It caught everyone off guard. There was no preparing for this shut-down. It just happened. Going from face-to-face instruction where everyone was comfortable and stakeholders had both experience and knowledge, to teaching and learning remotely. Overnight. It was a heavy lift for all involved-students, parents, and, yes, teachers.

Teachers had to manage a whole new environment, new strategies, new technology, new programs to deliver content. They had to figure out how to create a safe learning community for their students-inspiring academic growth and nurturing social emotional needs in these unsettling times. They had to support parents, families, and care-givers as they wrestled with the technology on the student side. They had to provide equity and access to learning, knowing some of their students had the latest technology while others did not even have access to the internet. It was mind boggling. And, it has been a long, slow, hard slog up a very steep learning curve. Yet our educators have risen to the challenge, charging up that steep curve, working incredibly hard to serve all of their students.

Teaching is a service career. As a National Board Certified Teacher, even retired, I understand that building and maintaining strong relationships with members of our community greatly benefits our students. As teachers, we serve our society. We serve our community. We serve our families. And, most importantly, we serve our students. So as I turned to this local taxpayer and neighbor, I took a relaxing breath, and proudly responded, “Yes, Earl, they are still getting their full salary. And they probably deserve more.”

“WHAT?” he bellowed at this unexpected reply.

“Well, they are working around the clock to figure out how best to serve our community’s students so they can minimize any negative impact of this virus. They are holding class meetings, answering questions on the phone, preparing lessons to post, and responding to the needs of both students and their families. Is it perfect?  No. Is it the same level of learning that could be happening face-to-face?  No. Yet, it is not for lack of trying, dedication, or old-fashioned hard work to make that happen.” I said.

“Hmmmpppffff” he replied.

As I looked at him, I decided on an approach that would be relevant.

“Earl, you run a dairy farm. I notice you working hard as you prepare your fields, fertilize, till, sow the seeds and harvest. That doesn’t even account for the work with the cows, what goes on in the barn that I can’t see. So, let me ask you a question. If this summer, something unprecedented happens, like a hurricane and the crops, due to the destruction, don’t yield what you planned, does that mean you didn’t work hard enough?”

“WELL NO!” he replied.

“Exactly” I said, “My guess is that it means you have to work harder to make up for the variables that were out of your control because your cows still need to be fed. Well, Earl, our teachers are doing that right now, dramatically adjusting for variables they couldn’t control, and will continue as long as it takes because our students need us, too.”

Colleen McDonald, NBCT

Colleen McDonald is a native of New York.  During her 32-year career as a NYS public educator, Colleen has worked as a special education teacher, administrator, and English teacher. After achieving National Board Certification, Colleen served as a classroom teacher, department chairperson, grant writer, and candidate support provider, as well as working with the Greater Capital Region Teacher Center on projects related to professional development. Colleen is also a member of the NYS Professional Standards and Practices Board as well as the NYS Commissioner’s Advisory Council. During her last two years in public education, she served as a Teacher on Special Assignment to be the New York State SEED grant Site Director, co-director of the National Board Council of New York and program manager for an NEA Great Public Schools Grant. Recently retired, she continues that work.