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As teachers, we’re used to being prepared. If a student is struggling with material, we have a plan. If a child has a challenging home life, we have a plan. If two feet of snow falls on the day of an exam, we have a plan. And even when all of our best laid plans go off the wall, we’re used to being able to tackle the situation at hand and make it through our lessons.
When it comes to COVID-19, we didn’t have a plan. No one could have predicted how quickly this would transform our lives, and we still do not know how this virus will continue to impact our community. And yet, in an unprecedented and unplannable situation, teachers have stepped up.
As a teacher in Bangor for three decades, and now as chair of the Legislature’s Education Committee, I know that to be a teacher is to be someone special. But to be a teacher during these unprecedented times is to be someone amazing. Suddenly your class, your curriculum, your goals for the year were turned upside down. You had to pivot and put everything online, learn to use Zoom to stay in touch with your students and worry about those students whom you know come from unstable homes. You had to, over a weekend, change everything about the way in which you teach and connect with your students.
Seemingly seamlessly you are sending out work for each day, having small group and large group chats with your students and providing normalcy to their disrupted lives. After all, you are a warm, safe constant in their lives.
I am home with two of my grandchildren. One is in third grade and the other is in fifth grade and intellectually disabled. Every morning, I tell them that it is time for school. They grumble a bit, but go right into the dining room to start the lessons their teachers have sent to them. I am so grateful for the routine this gives them and the feeling that not everything has changed. Their teachers make them feel supported.
Maine’s Department of Education is now working hard to make sure that educators feel supported too. State government is removing requirements such as standardized testing to ensure that teachers have the flexibility to meet the challenge in front of them. The state is also working with schools to waive the minimum number of school days required in a school year, while also creating spaces for educators from all corners of the state to collaborate on best practices for making the most of this unusual situation. For example, the Education Department has put together webinars on a wide range of topics. Their content specialists are showing teachers how to teach science experiments with limited technology and how to keep physical education programs active without a gym or athletic field. The department has also extended certification deadlines to support our education professionals and make sure they can focus on their students, rather than worry about licensing requirements.
We know that this pandemic will have long-term impacts on our children’s educational achievement. In my role as a legislator, I promise to continue to work with the Department of Education to mitigate those impacts and give teachers the tools they need to close that gap once we return to normalcy.
From the bottom of my heart, I want to thank you teachers! You have gone above and beyond for your students, even while many of you have families of your own at home. Thank you for your flexibility, your creativity and the care you have shown to each of your students. You are critical in making sure that our youngest Mainers feel supported during this difficult time, and I hope that our state government can continue to support you.
Tori Kornfield represents part of Bangor in the Maine House of Representatives. A former teacher at Bangor High School, she now chairs the Legislature’s Education and Cultural Affairs Committee.