A Teacher Appreciation Week like no other
Since I became the principal of George Washington Carver High School of Engineering & Science seven years ago, we have worked to carefully build a transformative learning environment to prepare students for success in college and beyond.
Then came COVID-19 and a new reality of school. Abruptly, we were thrown into uncharted territory, unable to continue with many of the practices that we worked so hard to nurture.
Since March 13 when school buildings closed, I have struggled to determine the best way to maintain our focus on providing the best education possible to our students. In my moments of doubt, I find myself returning to a simple axiom: Let teachers do what they do best.
People become teachers to affect the lives of their students and improve their communities. They are more than teachers – they are mentors, confidants, and supporters of young people. They have built deep relationships. During this crisis, they are being forced to reimagine these relationships with students, not to mention their instructional strategies.
It is now appropriate (perhaps serendipitous) that the School District of Philadelphia begins virtual learning during Teacher Appreciation Week. Since mid-March, the faculty members of Carver have, not surprisingly, risen to the occasion, spending time and energy to reimagine our learning context while juggling family responsibilities at home, too. Immediately after school closed, we quickly mobilized a Carver Learning Guide, in which teachers created online book groups for students, posted AP Classroom resources, held weekly coffeehouses for student performances, and posted online science simulations.
Our initial aim was to maintain a sense of community to the best of our ability, realizing the dramatic shift that was ahead. Now, they are able to deepen their work and further showcase their talents and passions as this next phase begins. I want to not only celebrate our teachers, but also elevate the work that so many other leaders and teachers are doing around the city.
I am humbled by the dynamic work of our teachers. As we continue to adapt, I would like to highlight some of these roles:
- Case managers: Teachers are continuing to offer support for struggling students. In this role, they are calling several times per week to check in, discussing instruction and organization, and sharing updates with colleagues. Most important, they are making a concerted effort to ensure that our students do not feel disconnected from our community while physically isolated from school.
- Technology mavens: Our teachers have quickly adapted to use technology in new ways to be sure that we communicate with students effectively. A newly created Instagram page is keeping the Class of 2020 spirit alive, and the Carver Corona Blog is constructed as a YouTube video to share our community experience. Our teachers are expanding their toolkits to use screencasts and other online tools to bring their content to life for our students.
- Instructional leaders: Carver E&S faculty members continue to engage in weekly department meetings to develop their ideas with colleagues. I have the privilege of joining these meetings. Lately, my favorite comment sounds like this: “I have so many ideas, and I am not sure which direction to go.” From there, we unpack the benefits and drawbacks and come up with a responsive teaching approach for our students. Next week, our teachers will unveil a wide range of pre-recorded screencasts, begin a new August Wilson play to perform during Google Hangouts, teach students to build personal websites, and conduct mindfulness sessions for our students.
I have been in awe of what the faculty of Carver Engineering & Science has put together. In my role as the school leader, I take pride in providing the space for their creativity and expertise to emerge. And although I know their work is to benefit our students, I also know there is renewal in this work for the teachers, too. Like our students, our teachers are struggling to rediscover their impact in this work. As my mom has taught me, I am a believer in the notion that healing is in the help. I see this principle come to life in our teachers.
To be sure, it has been a bumpy road, and we are seeking to work in partnership with our students and families. Many questions remain unanswered, and we have a great deal of healing ahead of us. Thus far, though, so many of our teachers have served as a light in this darkness.
Clearly, teacher appreciation has a different weight this year. I am grateful to work with such a talented group of educators. Let’s all support our teachers to optimize their abilities. Together, we’ll do our very best to support our students, schools, and city.
Ted Domers is in his seventh year as principal of the George Washington Carver High School of Engineering & Science. He is a 2015 Neubauer Fellow in Educational Leadership.