Public school teachers need and deserve our support more than ever
By Rev. Robin Anderson
Dedicated educators are the backbone of a solid public school system. I see it as a parent with three children in public schools, but I also witness it in my church.
When I was pregnant with twins, a dear friend, who happens to be a public school educator, taught me an invaluable lesson. She said that, in her experience, one twin often succeeds in school more naturally than the other. She said it is heartbreaking for her, as a teacher, to watch a twin for whom school is hard to constantly compare themselves to their sibling.
Seven years later, it was another public school educator — my son’s 2nd grade teacher — who nurtured him through a challenging year and gently walked my family through the process of getting him a Dyslexia diagnosis and the resources that he needs to thrive in school.
A year earlier, my other son’s first-grade teacher added something important to the mantra her students recited each morning — “We learn by making mistakes” — because she knew my little perfectionist needed that daily reminder.
Like many students, my eldest — my daughter — struggled with virtual school. The pandemic made her transition to high school particularly difficult. Even though her English teacher never met my daughter in person and rarely saw her face on a screen during virtual classes, that teacher patiently and persistently taught my child not just English, but that she can do hard things. This lesson will stick with my daughter long after graduation.
Now is a particularly stressful time to be a public school educator. The pandemic has negatively impacted students’ academic learning, mental health and social development. Many teachers tell me that test scores have fallen and behavioral issues have risen. In addition to challenges in the classroom, our political climate is also putting undue pressure on educators. For example, Indiana is considering a bill that would require teachers to submit an entire year’s worth of lesson plans before they ever meet their students. In my state of Virginia, the governor has set up an email hotline to which parents can complain about educators who are teaching material that they deem to be divisive.
It shouldn’t surprise us that a recent National Education Association survey finds that 90% of educators say that burnout is a serious problem for them. In addition, due to the pandemic, 55% of educators now plan to leave the profession earlier than expected. While these statistics shouldn’t surprise us, they should alarm us.
Like most congregations, mine includes a handful of educators, most of whom work in our public schools. When I ask teachers how they’re doing, they tell me about their students as often as they talk about their families. I hear about exciting projects on which their classes are working, new ideas teachers are tweaking for lesson plans, and students making breakthroughs or with whom the teacher is struggling to connect.
As part of our Sunday worship services, our church includes a time when people can share celebrations and concerns to pray about as a community. Our teachers often request prayer for their students. They know if someone has been placed in foster care, had a house fire or is acting out in class because of trauma at home. Our teachers think about those students on the weekends, and they want their faith community to hold them in prayer.
As a pastor of educators, I am often reminded that the best teachers are called to the profession. Because of this, when our church offers our Back to School Blessing each fall, we not only pray for students and teachers, but we use some of our missions fund to financially support our educators’ ministry. This does not mean that we encourage anyone to proselytize in public schools. Far from it! We firmly support the separation of church and state. However, it does mean that we affirm that teaching, loving, healing, lifting up, welcoming in, challenging and encouraging are all acts of ministry, and that this ministry happens every day in public school classrooms. Whether the teachers use the gift card our church gives them to purchase books for students, classroom supplies or hand sanitizer, we know that we are supporting them in doing the work of Jesus.
I am a pastor who intentionally sends my children to public school. I am grateful for the public school educators in my kids’ classrooms and in my church. They are helping develop adults who can think critically, approach new ideas with openness, and see the gifts in themselves and others, including those who are quite different from them. Public school teachers need and deserve our support more than ever right now. Their well-being depends upon it, as does that of our children.
The Rev. Robin Anderson is the co-pastor of Commonwealth Baptist Church in Alexandria, Va. and mom to 3 amazing teens in Prince William County public schools.