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Gregory Andrus, photojournalist and interviewer, here looks back at a year of interviewing almost two dozen teachers on the front lines of the pandemic response in education. Read his Teacher Stories series here on the Plymouth Rock Teachers’ Lounge to discover more.

It was a Friday in the middle of a cold March day, 2020. The news reports of a “novel virus” reaching our shores was casting a large shadow over virtually every sector of life in America. I was substituting at my son’s school on this day when an announcement was made at the school that we would be going remote for two weeks. All students were to bring their books home, and teachers were to teach virtually. Again, for two weeks. Little did the students, or the teachers, know that that day would be the last time the school would assemble for the rest of the 2019-2020 school year.

The amount of on-the-fly adjustments as they taught on virtual video like Zoom, and apps like class Dojo to enable them to actually carry out some form of their curriculum was overwhelming. As one teacher I interviewed this year said, “It is hard to stay sane while keeping everything in order. There is so much to balance and keep track of between the work needed for the kids doing both virtual and in-school. No one was prepared for this. I didn’t get training in school about what to do if there is a pandemic.” No teacher had.

Yet as a whole, the teachers in New Jersey – and beyond – rose to the occasion and made the students feel safe, cared for and seen during a historical pandemic. The teachers held the students accountable for their work, but also extended grace for many hiccups along the way.  They know that we are all in this together, and for some students, there is a lot of anxiety, a lot  people are getting sick, and there is so much stress day in and day out, and the teacher’s smile – albeit from a screen or behind a face mark – may be the only assurance a student may get that day.

To every teacher who gets up every morning and fires up the computer from their home for remote learning, or dons a face mask at school as they teach in person, thank you. Thank you for being a continuous foundation of strength, hope and reassurance in the middle of an almost yearlong siege of fear, bad news, and illness. You are the unsung heroes. You are making the continuity of education possible during one of the most challenging times ever for an entire generation — a generation that will be in the history books for a worldwide pandemic. And when they write about this pandemic in the academic history books for future students to read about, I hope they will include the fact that a part of the reason this country carried on, was because of the continued faithfulness of you teachers showing up every day. This country owes you all a debt of gratitude.

From all of us here at The Teachers’ Lounge, have a very Happy New Year.

~  Gregory Andrus

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