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Our Teachers’ Greatest Challenge Starts Today

West Virginia public schools open today, on what must be the most unusual first day ever.

First, this is a delayed opening. The scheduled starts last month were pushed back until today to give counties more time to prepare, while simultaneously hoping the spread of the virus would slow down.

It has not.

Second, not every county can open today. The increasing number of Covid-19 positives in some counties has pushed them into the orange or red zones in the state’s metric, meaning they cannot hold in-person classes.

Third, counties have adopted a variety of approaches to delivering instruction with the least amount of risk. For example, some are using hybrid schedules where students are in class some days and learning remotely on others.

Fourth, counties are also using different methods of distance learning. Some instruction is online, other classes are being taught through home-delivered assignments.

No one knows how any of this is going to work; so many variables, confusion and, yes, some risk associated with gatherings of students, faculty and staff.

But here is one certainty: children need their teachers. The research consistently shows the number one contributor in a child’s education is their teacher, and the quality of the teacher matters.

Many factors contribute to a student’s academic performance, including individual characteristics and families and neighborhood experiences,” according to a Rand Corporation report. “But research suggests that, among school-related factors, teachers matter most.”

Think about it—most of us can name at least one teacher, and probably many more, who made a difference in our lives.

There was the teacher who challenged you to be better or smarter than you thought you could be; the teacher who saw something in you that no one else did; the teacher you could talk to more easily than you could talk to your parents; the teacher who started you on a path that led you to where you are today.

I have interviewed many young teachers and those entering college to become educators. Almost all of them say they were inspired to enter the profession by one of their own teachers.

Our teachers have had to take on even more responsibility in recent years. More of their students are coming from dysfunctional homes because of the opioid crisis. The number of distractions for students has increased dramatically.

Now they have the added responsibility of trying to navigate the risks of the pandemic.

But they will figure it out. Teachers come to work each morning with a plan for the day, but prepared to pivot when the situation warrants. They are, by necessity, innovators.

Their profession defines them. When you ask a teacher what they do, they do not say, “I go to work in a school building and try to get children to learn things.” They say, “I am a teacher.” A little later in the conversation they will say, “I love my kids.”

Welcome back, teachers. We missed you, and we need you.

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