This post was written by educator and 2020 Education Fellow Dwayne Reed.
I am in one place right now, but my mind is in a million others. My thoughts are with my family and friends, but also with all of my scholars, their families, and their caregivers. I want to make sure all of my people are good, and all of my people’s people are good. I know you do too. We want to fix everything as teachers, and if someone’s hurting or scared, we want to be the ones to absorb that. For me, being a teacher right now feels a little like being on a flight crew: even when there’s turbulence and things are rocky, we’re here to stay calm and help people feel at peace. We demonstrate strength and hope so that others can breathe easy. As educators, our scholars look to us and know, “If they’re cool, I’m cool.”
Several weeks ago, as school districts began closing around the country and I was reflecting on this feeling, I tweeted about it. I ended my message with the words #TeacherStrong.
Honestly, this wasn’t an “aha” moment for me. It was more of a “duh!” The fact is, we’ve often been on the front lines and served as a collective source of strength during turbulent times. For that reason, I believe #TeacherStrong is so much more than a hashtag or a cool statement that rolls off the tongue. It’s bigger than that. And it’s something we’ve always been.
Each day, I see you all doing read alouds, setting up virtual challenges, mailing handwritten (and sanitized!) letters, making jokes, sharing memes, using TikTok as a way to connect with your students. I see you out there doing whatever it takes to give your students and communities a small sense of normalcy again. And it’s not just us teachers being strong. I see so many of us recognizing that same strength in our scholars and communities, and celebrating their successes, too.
As I’ve seen this movement grow, I’ve felt satisfaction in knowing that it’s inspiring something good. Everyone has a #TeacherStrong story because everyone has a teacher in their lives who’s inspired them, helped them grow into who they are today, and showed them how to stay cool in troubling times. I think we’re all stronger by sharing these stories about ourselves and each other.
I also think #TeacherStrong highlights the goodness and power found in coming together as a community. It’s the realization that we can’t do this with just our own strengths; we need the collective strength of others. I need your unique power, innovation, and care to help me get through this thing. And you might need mine. When more of us start to carry the load, the load becomes easier to bear. It’s like the African proverb, “If you want to go fast, go alone; but if you want to go far, go together.” We all have ideas that we can offer up and work together to process, practice, and prove, whether they’re effective, or they still need a few more looks. If we do, I believe we’ll find the way forward.
In that spirit, I believe #TeacherStrong can be the foundation for a new normal. It’s a manifestation of education being grounded in connections rather than content. I’ve been thinking about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, and the needs to be met first: your belly needs to be fed before I start filling your head. Your heart needs to know it can count on me before I start filling your brain with numbers. I like to say, “Maslow before Bloom.” That’s how we need to rethink and reshape education. It’s about reaching people where they’re at and meeting their needs in the way that best supports them at the moment in time.
So where does that leave us today? I feel you if you’re having a hard time getting up, getting dressed, and getting to work right now. I’m struggling too. But just like we’ve done so many times in the past, I know we’ll get up and do it anyway. We’ll keep logging on and going live from our laptops. We’ll keep finding ways to make the connections from miles away. We’ll keep doing what we can to make sense of a world that makes no sense right now. After all, it’s what we’ve always done for the scholars and families we serve.
Keep hope and believe it’s gon’ be good. We’re good. We got this. We’re #TeacherStrong.
Dwayne Reed is a 2020 National Geographic Education Fellow and an educator at Chicago Public Schools.
Feature image by Rebecca Hale.