Dear Teachers of Rhode Island,
Many of you probably don’t realize that the hard work you’ve been doing for the past two months is not the norm throughout the country. You have led the way while other cities and states have been painfully slow in keeping students connected to school and to learning. Perhaps you assumed that teachers everywhere were tasked with the same lightning-fast transition to distance learning that you were.
But that is not the case.
Millions of students have gotten nothing more than “enrichment”. And countless other students have simply gotten nothing: No instruction, no check-ins from their teachers, no assignments.
Governor Raimondo and Education Commissioner Infante-Green were fast off the blocks with their commitment to the belief that “some learning is better than no learning” and you have taken those words and run with them, ensuring that RI’s children know that school is in session, their presence valued, their work required. It is imperfect and messy—but it is absolutely better than nothing.
Think about all the students across this nation who feel forgotten by their schools. The reasons for that failure vary but I hope you take pride in knowing that your students have not been forgotten and have been “doing school” for nearly two months. Some parents have clamored for more work, others for less work, and some for no work. “Equity” activists have tried to convince us that academics should not be a priority under any circumstances, that school work somehow flies in the face of normalcy and love.
But our governor and education commissioner have been a signal in the noise, steadfast in the commitment to keeping students learning because some learning is better than no learning.
We know you didn’t sign up to work this way. You aren’t used to only seeing your students’ faces on screens, unable to hug them, high-five them or give them that look that says “I know you can do better” or “I believe in you” or a recent RI favorite, “knock it off.” Some of you have been in the classroom for many years and, in the blink of an eye, you felt your confidence waver as the job you’ve known for decades suddenly took you out of your classroom and onto virtual platforms that you had never used before.
While teachers’ unions and superintendents’ associations from Los Angeles to Boston spent weeks using the COVID-19 crisis as a bargaining chip, you all got to work. April vacation was suddenly moved up to March and you scrambled to get plans approved and in place at the same time that teacher and student hearts were breaking because nobody even got the chance to say goodbye.
Many of you were dealing with your own children’s transition to remote learning while also becoming a first time “virtual teacher”. Others of you were gearing up to coach teams, suddenly teaching in a whole new way while also coming to grips with the fact that your long awaited season was not to be. Music and theatre teachers grappled with how to move lessons alone while coming to the realization that after all those rehearsals, the show wouldn’t go on.
But you’re doing it. Just as we parents are figuring things out on the home front, your efforts have helped to maintain normalcy for our children during a time that feels anything but normal. From the engineering teacher at PCTA making face shields for front-line workers in her “spare” time to the Blackstone Valley Prep school nurse who answered the call and went to work overnight full-time in the ICU of a local hospital, you are teaching our children valuable lessons. Whether you are sewing masks, delivering plants to students’ homes for science class, sitting in a recliner figuring out how to use ZOOM or pushing students to use evidence in their writing—it matters. None of it is easy, all of it matters.
Rhode Island got this right and that would not have been possible without you.
Thank you, teachers.