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'We Love You': How teachers, students are adapting to their new reality

I drove by Highland Elementary in Lake Stevens recently, and their reader board says, "We love you and miss you".

It brought me to tears.

Who would have ever thought that a reader board would act as the year's farewell? Teachers and school staff would never have expected their school year would so suddenly be coming to a close. And, in a sense, they're grieving — grieving while taking action.

Although school buildings are closed, teachers across Washington are rallying to meet the needs of their students. They're preparing packets of materials, learning new online platforms, emailing with parents, recording storytimes, offering math assistance through Zoom and Google Meet, striving to connect daily. Not a single one took "Pandemic Education" in college, and yet, they're rising to the challenge, learning as they go, and succeeding.

Alongside doctors and nurses, first responders, and other essential personnel, school staff must be recognized as heroes too. They're improvising in ways they never could have imagined, and we are all appreciating teachers and the vast amount they juggle as educators and mentors a lot more these days.

Haneen Ahmad, a mom of two and licensed therapist and coach boasted about her son's kindergarten teacher.

"[She] has been amazing, so supportive via email, and doing all she can to provide us with resources and work," she said.

And personally, I echo that appreciation. My children's own advising teacher, who they see weekly as part of a parent partnership program, has written personalized emails to each of them asking how they are doing. She welcomed photos in our reply, and the kids were eager to send a picture of their recent art project. My son, a first-grader, closed his correspondence with "I hope your family is well from the disease that is going around." Because, of course, one of his greatest concerns amidst all of this is for the wellbeing of those he loves. And like so many students, he loves his teacher.

That love is definitely reciprocal.

"I'm heartbroken. I didn't get to say goodbye," said Natalie Teabo, a preschool teacher. "All they knew is Mrs. Teabo talked so much about washing hands to not spread germs and sickness, and then they didn't come back to school the next day. I'm worried they think it's their fault — like they didn't wash good enough."

But despite the distance, she's connecting as well as she can with supplies and sensory packages and resources to carry her students through this unknown time.

For older students, teachers are joining them on a technology learning curve as they adapt to distance learning through loaned laptops, online meetings, and portals designed to maintain education goals.

After initial sadness, Ruth Hockensmith, a 6th grade English Language Arts teacher, fully embraced her new teaching challenge.

"I am excited about the new technology I am learning to use, but miss [and] crave the interaction," she said. "I am addicted to watching vocabulary.com just to see my students' names pop up." In the coming weeks, she plans to proceed with weekly schedules and meetings to "hit the essentials needed for 7th grade."

No doubt, we are lucky, blessed truly, to have teachers like Mrs. Teabo and Mrs. Hockensmith working so tirelessly on behalf of our students. And they are just two of many — two teachers that represent thousands of committed school staff.

Principals are leading the way. Lunch teams still providing meals. Speech pathologists meeting one on one to follow through on IEPs. And many more. Our heroes. All are working to fill in the gaps. All are making the most of a seemingly impossible situation. All are finishing this unprecedented year with hope and dreams of returning to the classroom... to their students.

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