As veteran teachers, we originate from the first dry-erase boards, textbooks that were outdated the moment they were assigned to students, and collegial advice like “Don’t smile until Christmas” and “Shut your door and teach your butt off.” Our first educational technology was not ubiquitous; it took the form of transparency projectors, cassette players, and cacophonous sounds of modems connecting to a snail-paced internet. We are survivors of the first email accounts. We remember feeling like we had won the lottery when an altruistic colleague handed us an overflowing box of transparencies and worksheets, the equivalent of a year’s worth of lesson plans and, therefore, our overall sanity. Today, we derive that same feeling from a ten-second sharing of a colleague’s Google Drive files.
We’ve stood in front of copier machines and imagined thousands of trees crashing to a forest floor, and if the Olympics ever hosted a grade reports competition, we could blow people’s minds with our dexterity on a simple calculator and with our accuracy and neatness from pencil marks in a paper grade book. Everyone knows educators should never write in a paper grade book with a pen!
We’ve sat through innumerable faculty meetings and wondered, “Why in the heck wasn’t this informational get-together an email?” only to be late for our low-wage or unpaid second jobs of coaching, sponsoring, and tutoring students after school. Some of us…well, some of us have even taken on second jobs outside of the educational realm just to make ends meet.
We’ve stood ramrod straight and proud as some uninformed nitwit vomited out condescending remarks like, “I don’t see how you do that job for such low pay, but I guess three months off in the summer make up for it,” “How do you teach with kids like they are today?” or “Ahh! You’re a teacher. Bless your heart!” Yep! During these moments we often envision ourselves as a sensei of sarcasm who offers responses so venomous and honest that the verbal perpetrator retreats by slithering into the desert of cluelessness from which he came. Sssseeee what I mean? Umm hmm! Or in really intense moments, we imagine suddenly being possessed by self-defense skills so superior they render us bad-butt MMA fighters who instead use an old-school method to convert such nitwits into humbled, and bruised, supporters of education.
But, no, we don’t enact either of the two aforementioned daydreams. Instead, we appropriately warrior up by delving into our character assets and our carefully selected vocabulary. We bite our tongues, smile politely, and say something like, “Those kids are a blessing to me. They teach me so much every day, and I simply hope I am guiding their young lives in a direction that will make this community and this world a better place. You know…a world in which people actually think before they speak or act.”
At times, we’ve become social media junkies who stay informed of the latest pedagogical practices and educational technology through pushers like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and other platforms. Our innocuous addiction to being the best educators possible doesn’t stop there. Nope! Unashamedly, many of us admit that a 3-day educational conference evokes excitement comparable to a beach vacation. I know, I know, but judge us as you may. And don’t even get us talking about educational blogs. Shoot, we can rattle off a list of fifty awesome blogspots before you can say, “Man, teachers rock.” In fact, our professional learning communities extend well beyond our school hallways and into a stratospheric network of connected educators all around the world. Just check an educational hashtag, and you’ll see what we mean.
And now, we, the seasoned teachers of 10, 20, and even 30 years of experience, find ourselves once again evolving as we face new challenges and tasks. We’ve been the sage-on-the-stage, the guide-on-the-side, the facilitator-of-something-greater, the one-who-makes-learning-fun, and today, the teacher-armed-with-Zoom-and-Canvas-as-a-double-feature who leads tweens and teens behind screens.
You see, Covid and Social Justice called…and teachers answered.
What ensued? Increased job responsibilities, no doubt.
What is our response? “No problem,” we collectively say.
We can add a new batch of assigned and necessary duties to our daily tasks of assessing and recording formative and summative data, creating engaging and differentiated lesson plans, tracking attendance, providing student feedback, participating in professional learning communities, calling home to parents to discuss their children’s progress, coaching extracurricular activities, attending school functions, leading interventional student meetings with all stakeholders, monitoring hallways and parent pick-up lines, and…the list goes on and on.
And what about our skills today? Well, it’s nothing for us to facilitate an interactive, online, and synchronous class via Zoom class with thirty-plus students while engaging them with educational technology like NearPod, Quizizz, Jamboard, and a backchannel like Padlet. Embedding amazing apps like Kami and Flipgrid into a robust and flexible learning management system such as Instructure’s Canvas is second-nature to us now. And don’t even get us started on data. Nope! Let me assure you that we can crunch students’ learning statistics and devise differentiated learning designs before you can even utter the names of the technology tools that make these practices possible.
It’s as if teachers today have, and are required to have, an infinite set of skills.
Increasingly today, we care for students with the compassion of Mother Teresa and the selflessness of Dr. Jonas Salk. We listen to students’ struggles with the insight and understanding of Carl Jung. We inspire students with the positivity and encouragement of Oprah Winfrey. We sanitize classrooms after every bell with the dedication of Mr. Clean. We check students’ temperatures and recognize unhealthy situations with the intentionality of Florence Nightingale. We identify and treat calls for social justice with the courage of Martin Luther King, Jr., the tenacity of Susan B. Anthony, the serenity of Mahatma Gandhi, and what Atticus Finch deemed “unmitigated temerity.” We can troubleshoot and decode technical problems with the computer prowess of Bill Gates and the creativity of Steve Jobs. And, Lord knows, with the patience of Job, we offer every student periods of grace for late assignments. Through all this and despite ten-minute lunch breaks and unused restroom stops, we exhibit boundless energy like Bruce Lee.
Some may call us superheroes. We won’t argue with that comparison. In fact, it’s actually closer to reality than it is to fiction. For as long as people can imagine, teachers have been blanketing the world with the warmth, generosity, and guidance from their invisible capes. The only difference now is that we are wearing masks.