As 2020 draws to a close and we begin holiday celebrations and traditions, if a bit more quietly this year, public school educators are feeling grateful despite the struggles, setbacks and sorrows of a tumultuous year. NEA Today asked some members how they plan to show gratitude to their students, families, friends, or even to themselves this holiday season.
Jordann Lankford-Forster (Bright Trail Woman), interTRIBAL Immersion Teacher & Indian Education For All Instructional Coach, Great Falls, Montana
If you have fallen on hard times it is more likely that you will experience feelings of deficiencies or despair, especially during the holiday season. I remind my students that from an Indigenous perspective, observing gratitude should not be compartmentalized to a yearly celebration. It is inherently traditional for Indigenous people to continually reflect on their blessings since time immemorial, and we practice demonstrating thankfulness every day. It is also very important for educators to remind students how important they are and to encourage their resiliency, even when they feel like giving up.
Leticia H. Calderón, kindergarten teacher, Donna, Texas
This year has brought many challenges, but I am most grateful to be able to continue my work as an educator. The pandemic has brought many hardships to many of our student’s families. Often, we are not aware of the circumstances the family lives in or the challenges they face. Remote learning has forced us to be more in contact with them and we have in a sense been invited into their homes just as much as we have invited them into our own homes. We have grown to be more appreciative of each other’s help as teachers and parents learn to navigate technology, establish routines, and work together to teach our students.
As a teacher, I still feel that, despite the distance and not actually ever meeting each of my students in person, we have formed a bond with them and their families. I hope that as we gradually return to “normalcy” we can continue to build and connect the bridges between the home and classroom and establish partnerships that can positively impact and educate the whole child.
Whitney Barber, special education paraprofessional, Middlebury, Vermont
I am grateful to have such a wonderful, satisfying job at a time when many people are struggling financially. I am especially grateful to be able to work with students in person as I try to help them thrive during this pandemic.
Barb Armour, bus driver, Brunswick, Ohio
As a bus driver, I was grateful to go back to face-to-face to see the students, even with the fear of COVID looming over us. Taking the precautions was a given, and we were also given extra masks in case a student forgot theirs. We started the year with just the Career center, and the kids were excited to be back. You could see it as they wanted to talk to each other on the bus, but they knew to listen and keep the masks on.
After a couple of weeks, the rest of the district came back, and even the middle school students were so happy to be back in school. The drivers had new routes to contend with, some had new buses, but all did a great job getting back to a "normal". Even just walking outside together with the other drivers you can see how they are glad to be back with the kids, and even each other.
Gwyneth Jones, teacher librarian and Ed Tech Leader, Howard County, Maryland, (@GwynethJones - Twitter @TheDaringLibrarian - Instagram)
Creating community during these distant times learning virtually has been a challenge but very important to our school and Library Media program. We have weekly Media Breaks or online virtual recess gatherings with all our middle grades. We've also had contests where kids participate just for fun winning small fun things like superhero rubber duckies or Ninja socks thanks to Amazon delivery.
There's so much negativity out there that it's a good thing to focus on the positive. The gratitude. The good. It's important. It's the positive bright lights that we focus on rather than the dark spots that we are apt to dwell upon that will nourish us through this. We can do this!
Toni Olivarez, seventh grade social studies teacher, Donna, Texas
I’ve been an educator for 10 years and I love my job. My family is the reason for choosing this career path. This year has been quite challenging. From losing my mom to liver cancer and my oldest sister to COVID-19, to the deaths of two of my former students, my heart has truly ached and my eyes have shed so many tears. And in spite of all this sadness and chaos around me, I still thank God for blessing me and my family with another day of life as we wake up each morning. All I ask is that we can continue doing this work in making a difference in the lives of others. For these reasons and so much more, I am thankful for all my blessings.
Tammy LaPlante, custodian, Ashtabula, Ohio
I'm making care packages of toilet paper, paper towels, tissues, dish soap, and other household items and maybe a few gift cards. These will be distributed anonymously within my district and neighborhood. During the holidays these items are usually the last on the list, but are greatly appreciated. This will definitely give a pick-me up to those receiving them and to myself as well!
Chris Williams, special education intervention specialist, Columbus, Ohio
Our families have been heroes throughout this journey of virtual learning. They have been wonderful, and collaborating with them during this time has been really special. We have essentially been co-teaching with our students' grownups, and it has led to special connections with our families. We are planning to do some sort of virtual awards show for our families in December to recognize their commitment to their child's learning and as a way to show our appreciation to them.