If there’s one thing parents have learned from 2020, it’s that teachers are superstars. Of course, most of us knew this already, but last spring when schools shut down, in many cases with little or no time to prepare, we saw our teachers pivot hard and transition to new and challenging ways of planning, teaching, assessing, and relating to their students.
At the end of last school year, for reasons unrelated to COVID, I decided to take some time off from teaching. Meanwhile, my colleagues and teachers across the country entered into a sort of super-stressful educational limbo, not sure how to plan for the coming year or whether or not it would be safe to return to the classroom.
Teachers face a multitude of challenges this year
Once states and school districts determined how to move forward, most teachers had limited time to prepare and many found themselves trying to balance in-person and virtual instruction. Now that the year is underway, teachers continue to face a multitude of new challenges as they educate our children during a global health crisis.
For this reason, many parents are looking for ways to support and encourage their kids’ teachers. But this can be tricky for parents of older kids. There are no room moms in high school or class parties, and there are often fewer ways for high school and junior high parents to volunteer. Fortunately, in my years as a middle school, junior high, and high school teacher, I encountered many wonderful parents, and I am happy to pass along the ways they made me feel supported and encouraged, as well as some ways to reach out to and for teachers during this time of crisis.
How parents can help teachers
Our teachers are overworked and overwhelmed. Here are some ways you can lighten their load.
1. Donate Supplies.
Remember when your kids were younger and you made your annual beginning-of-the-new-school-year shopping trip to buy all the items on the school supplies list? And while your child did need her own crayons and pencil case, I’m sure you realized that she would not personally be using two packages of dry-erase markers or three boxes of Kleenex.
Those items were for the class–so that the teacher did not have to supply everything out of her own pocket. The thing is, most high school teachers don’t get to send home a supply list. They often have to buy all the extra pencils and paper and Kleenex themselves. Consider shooting your kids’ teachers an email and asking what they need for their classroom. You don’t have to provide everything, but every little bit helps the teachers’ budget and stress level.
2. Offer to create a bulletin board.
Lower elementary teachers just seem to have cuteness and creativity in their DNA. I, on the other hand, used to decorate my classroom with a fire drill procedure sign and a poster about the evils of plagiarism. I definitely could have used a helpful and creative parent to spruce things up. Even teachers who have a knack for that sort of thing, are likely having trouble finding the time to create or update their classroom bulletin board this year and would probably really appreciate the help.
3. Laminate stuff.
Teachers like things laminated. Most schools have a laminating machine, but it can be hard for teachers to find the time to use it. A parent volunteer who is willing to take on that job would be a huge help. Also, many teacher or office supply stores will laminate items for a small fee. Being able to turn that job or expense over to a parent could really lighten a teacher’s load.
4. Provide seasonal decorating.
One year, a thoughtful parent brought in a decorated Christmas tree for me to display in my classroom. I was thrilled. Teachers spend a lot of time in their classrooms (or home office) but rarely have time to add the festive touches that both they and their students appreciate. It might seem frivolous, but providing a seasonal touch to a teacher’s workspace might be a great way to help make her year a little brighter.
5. Just ask.
If you still aren’t sure what you can do to offer teachers practical help, just ask them. Sometimes just knowing someone cares and is willing to help is a great boost for a teacher’s morale.
How parents can encourage teachers
Depending on your situation and your school’s policies on having non-personnel on campus, your best option might be to offer your kids’ teachers some simple encouragement.
1. Write a note letting a teacher know specifically how she has helped your child.
An encouraging note or email from a parent can go a long way toward making a teacher feel appreciated. Knowing that he has made an impact on a child’s life–academically or personally–and that parents have noticed that impact, can give a teacher the boost he needs to face the next challenge.
2. Send a pick-me-up.
A gift card for coffee or a soft drink, a box of candy, or seasonal goodie–I have a friend who calls these sorts of thoughtful little surprises a “happy.” Sending your child’s teacher a “happy” with a short note of appreciation is a surefire way to brighten her whole day–or week!
3. Provide a meal.
This year teachers are working harder than ever. If it is within your time and your budget to buy or cook a meal for one or all of your kids’ teachers, go for it! It would be a great way to take something off that teacher’s to-do list.
4. Give the gift of pampering.
Teachers are stressed! Show your child’s teachers that you appreciate how hard they are working by giving them a little luxury–a scented candle or luxurious lotion, some gourmet coffee or fine chocolate, maybe even a gift certificate for a massage or manicure. They deserve it!
How parents can advocate for teachers
Some school districts are doing a tremendous job of supporting teachers with their extra workload this year. In other cases, teachers are struggling to manage the normal stress of teaching with all the new expectations and concerns. Here are some things you can do to help.
1. Checkout your school’s safety procedures.
No one likes wearing a face-covering or social distancing, but in most areas of the country this is what public health experts are recommending, and teachers deserve the right to feel safe at work. If your child’s school is not enforcing basic standards of safety, speak up! Let your administration know that you expect and support the safest possible learning environment for your kids and their teachers.
2. Find out how your school is helping teachers manage their added workload.
Because many teachers are responsible for both in-class and virtual instruction, their workload this year is almost unmanageable. To help with this, some school districts have implemented early-out days or a four-day week so that teachers have time to plan, grade, and meet with struggling students. If your children’s school isn’t taking steps to alleviate teacher stress and workload, talk to your administrators and school board members and see what can be done.
Finally, once you’ve determined the best way to help and encourage your children’s teachers, consider asking other parents and even students to join you so that teachers will feel the support of their entire community.
Our teachers are superstars, but they aren’t superhuman. They are working harder than ever and under more stressful conditions, and no doubt many of them are weary and discouraged. How can you support a teacher today?