By Heather Ward, MSW, LSW, CPS
There are many adults that can shape a child's life as they grow up, but few impact academic and emotional growth like a great teacher. In New Jersey alone there are more than 100,000 teachers working with 1M+ students across the state, and it goes without saying that their work is worthy of gratitude. It does not matter if it is a first-year teacher, or one who has been in the field for decades, they are each special and influence the students they work with.
Since 1985, the first week in May has been designated as Teacher Appreciation Week to honor our nation's educators. This year, of course, it is being celebrated a little differently. There will be no classroom parties or cards handed to teachers. There will be no hugs and gracious "thank you's" being spoken in person.
This year, there will be virtual meetings and smiles through a computer screen. There will be Zoom chats and emails about school work. Teachers have turned into remote proctors, doing their best to meet their students where they are, not just on an academic level, but also an emotional one.
Teachers are aware of the mandates and requirements that are placed upon them to make sure school continues as seamlessly as possible during this period of remote learning. But they are also aware that their students, just like themselves, have been thrown a curve ball, and learning is now different. Their students, who may be in living in unsafe situations, or who may not be able to focus through a computer screen, need more than just continued lessons and learning. In this time of uncertainty and chaos, where everything about school is new and different, students need to know they still have an adult in their life who is there for them and who cares about them. Teachers hold that spot for so many children, even if it is through a screen.
This year, for Teacher Appreciation Week, it is important to recognize not just the tremendous job teachers do every day, but to acknowledge the way they have taken their duties to a higher level through this COVID-19 pandemic. Teachers this year are not just teaching classroom lessons; they are teachers of technology and the digital communication systems they were thrust into using. They are mentors, giving extra time to students for subjects that are hard to grasp. They are a sounding board for parents and administrators, working through frustrations trying to do what is best for their students. Yes, teachers do all of these things every year, but has never been done completely through technology.
It is for all these reasons that I and everyone at Wellspring Center for Prevention tip our hats to all the amazing educators in our community! That doesn't just include teachers, but any individual who works with students, such as counselors or mentors. Wellspring also would like to thank our wonderful clinicians at Pathways in Carteret High School and The PATH in Carteret Middle School and South Plainfield High School, who have been working hard to supplement students' online learning and keep them engaged and connected from home.