May is always a special time of the year in education because that’s when we celebrate national Teacher Appreciation Week, which this year is being celebrated May 4-8.
I know the types of challenges teachers face because I come from a family with deep ties to education. My mother is a retired teacher. My father served on a local board of education for more than 30 years. And although I’m trained as an attorney, it’s been my privilege and my calling to practice in the education field for most of my adult life.
In the best of times, teachers face a challenging task. They have a new class every year that is filled with students who come from all different backgrounds and face their own unique set of challenges. In Kentucky, the chances are that more than half of those students will come from economically disadvantaged homes. A significant number of them may be homeless, have parents who are incarcerated, have a disability or speak another language.
Each year we ask our teachers to take their students, regardless of where they start, and ignite a love of learning in them. We ask them to help their students learn the skills they will need to find success after high school, whether that’s starting a job, getting a certificate or earning a college degree.
This year we’ve asked even more of our teachers when schools across the Commonwealth shut down to try to lessen the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). Since mid-March, we’ve asked all of our teachers to continue providing a high-quality education using non-traditional instruction. It has meant drastically changing they way they learned to teach, including emailing or texting students, reading a book aloud on YouTube, using Google classroom or holding Zoom meetings.
While many of our districts had been using the Non-Traditional Instruction Program for its original purpose – which has been limited to just 10 instructional days per year – we’ve been asking a lot more of our teachers this year. We have asked them to keep their students engaged and learning for week after week in a stressful and uncertain environment.
I’m proud to say our teachers have stepped up to the plate. By using the hashtag #MyNTIKy, educators have been sharing with us and each other some of the phenomenal things they and their students have been doing. I’ve seen virtual music lessons, virtual field trips to dairy farms, counselors doing mental health check-in with their students and teachers holding parades through neighborhoods to let their students know they are thinking about them.
So, let’s all show some appreciation to our teachers this year. Check out the National Education Association website for cards you can use on social media to thank your favorite educator. Or check out the National PTA website to find creative ways to show your appreciation, including sharing emojis to show your child’s teacher what they mean in your life.
I am proud to say that I have spent my career working with and for Kentucky’s educators. Every day I’m reminded of the impact that my own teachers had and are still having upon my life. In a trying time, you all have been creative, flexible and devoted to your students. I hope that during national Teacher Appreciation Week and throughout the month of May, you know how much you mean to your students, their families and the Commonwealth as a whole.