In the spring, teachers had a “superhero” moment.
When the world as we knew it was flipped on its head, there was unprecedented clarity on how central teachers and public education are to our children’s welfare, our economy and our very routines.
That moment was fleeting.
For the past few months, teachers have been portrayed more like villains. Teachers are giving three times as much as in a “normal” year but are less appreciated than ever.
Case in point: Mrs. Lengstorf.
I know what an excellent educator she is.
Her son and I grew up together, and she was my middle school English teacher. I always loved reading and writing, but her efforts multiplied my love for words.
Throughout high school, she sponsored my graduating class, helping us prepare prom and commencement, chaperoning trips and generally offering support through our teenage years.
She was inspiring to the point that I looked to her when choosing my life’s work, and when I returned to my school as an English teacher, she became my colleague and mentor.
In March, when Mrs. Lengstorf found out she would not go back to school, she began to plan.
She learned how to use Zoom and Google Classroom without formal training. She found new ways to grade and offer feedback.
Over the summer, we, like our students and families, waited for news of what our work would look like in the fall and continued trying to plan. Fortunately, our school adopted a hybrid model that afforded the district the opportunity to bring students with the highest needs back to campus.
At the beginning of the semester, Mrs. Lengstorf learned a camera system that projects her classroom to the students at home, whom she must manage in addition to the students in her room. She learned procedures for keeping the students on campus safe: a list that seems to change from day to day.
She’s working especially hard to ensure her students, more tempted than ever to just use search engines, aren’t plagiarizing. Most challenging of all for a teacher like Mrs. Lengstorf is that it has been harder to connect with kids who only know her and her class under these less-than-ideal circumstances.
She has spent hours at the school on her weekends for years, but this year, her car is there later and later.
She recently said to me: “Parents are losing patience because their child isn’t in school – or not in school on the ‘right day,’ and despite the efforts of teachers and administrators, we are now a target for the frustration they are experiencing.”
If you want to know what teaching is like in a pandemic, ask a teacher. As we approach the legislative session, let your legislators know it’s important to you and your family that they support educators.
Mrs. Lengstorf and the teachers in your community are not any less important to our routines, our economy and our child’s welfare now than they were when the pandemic began.
(Kayli Ortiz teaches Pre-K in the Reserve Independent School District. She is a Teach Plus New Mexico Policy Fellowship alumna.)