Every year, I look forward to the first week of May, Teacher Appreciation Week. The week is usually filled with handwritten cards and drawings, a thousand hugs and high fives, and all the candy and snacks we probably shouldn’t be eating. Most endearingly, it’s filled with grateful smiles from our students and their families.
This year, Teacher Appreciation Week looked completely different. Since the COVID-19 pandemic forced our school doors to close, teachers around the country have worked exceptionally hard to transform their classes to the virtual world. My colleagues are going above and beyond to make sure their students not only continue to grow academically but also have access to food and safety. In the middle of a pandemic, we have not thought about feeling appreciated. This is why I was unbelievably honored when Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos took the time to call me, thank me for my work in education and let me know just how appreciated I am.
I am a distinguished sixth grade Pre-AP Math and Pre-AP Science teacher at the School for the Talented and Gifted in Pleasant Grove, a low-income, high minority community within the Dallas Independent School District (DISD). As the 2019-2020 DISD Secondary Teacher of the Year and a senior Teach Plus Policy Fellow, I’ve experienced a lot in my time in education, but nothing like what teachers are experiencing now. In this crucial time, I speak not only for myself but for my colleagues in expressing that, while it is important to feel appreciated, it is even more important now to have the support of decision-makers like Secretary DeVos.
As we look to the future of education and plan for our students to come back to school, there are two key items that I’m asking federal decision-makers, including Secretary DeVos and members of Congress to consider.
- First, all educators should be able to undergo trauma-informed training before the start of the next school year. In August, every educator I know will be coming back to classrooms, whether in person or virtually, all over the state and the nation to welcome students who have undergone the different traumas associated with COVID-19. There will be students like Carla, who has watched her mother lose her job and experienced her power shut off during this warm spring Texas heat because they were unable to pay the bill. Carla has to walk down the street to her neighbor’s multi-family home to connect her district laptop to the internet so she can complete her schoolwork. Poverty, reports of child abuse, and food insecurity have increased manifold during the pandemic and as educators, we need to be ready to meet our students’ social-emotional needs.
- Second, schools and school districts will need more support on the ground. I am thankful to work for Dallas Independent School District, which is going above and beyond to serve our community by providing food for families, childcare for first responders, and access to resources and technology so that all students can continue to learn and succeed. However, this doesn’t come without a cost. School districts around the country, like DISD, are doing their best to address the inequities in our communities to serve our students. They will need the same level of support form state and federal leaders to make sure their students can continue to learn. This is why I am asking Secretary DeVos, Congress, and other decision-makers to listen to school and community leaders and to do what they can and to do what they can to directly support our students who are at greatest risk.
I don’t always agree with Secretary DeVos, but I am greatly appreciative of the time she took to learn more about my journey in education and the community in which I work. She especially sympathized with my theater students who have to postpone their Disney musical, “Aladdin Kids,” until the fall. Still, I wish she had said more.
To make equitable change for our students, we cannot afford to allow political differences to keep us from taking action in this country. We must build bridges and work together despite our differences. The greatest teacher appreciation gift Secretary DeVos and other decision-makers can give is to show their support of and trust in educators by making sure our students have access to the resources they need to thrive.