The Maine Sunday Telegram of 19 July gave teachers front page coverage. Rightly. They do a hard and vital job. And it’s now harder.

It’s hard work becoming a teacher. Time and money and effort; education, training, practice; periodic updating. It also requires dedication and caring; without those, why not choose some other profession? Teachers aren’t highly regarded in the United States; they can make comparisons with other countries. It’s not a well-paid profession; other people with that much education make more in easier jobs that don’t require devotion. The career ladder of status and pay is short; the only way to move far up is administration, which means curtailing, then stopping teaching.

Teaching itself isn’t easy. Meeting students’ needs requires constant thought and regular adaptation in the classroom. And the job goes home with the teacher: correcting student work, planning lessons, reading, and, let’s face it, worrying about students, their learning and their lives.

All this, and now pandemic. Teachers care about their students, their own children, families and friends, themselves. What about teachers who are especially vulnerable: older or immune compromised? Teachers are accustomed to asking questions; they’re asking them now, as the Telegram said. If they don’t get satisfactory answers, we’ll lose some of them. And the best will find it easiest to move on.

How can we keep teachers safe, satisfied, and effective? There’s no single or simple answer, because teachers have many questions. How to get young students to wear masks, and socially distance? How will school rooms be configured? What about teacher style and subject content that call for close-up attention? Will we open face-to-face in the Fall? Are we ready to return to Zoom if necessary?

Scheduling has always been tricky. And now! Half days or alternate days face-to-face? Teachers’ own children need schooling or child care; how to mesh conflicting schedules? How to organize transportation; a reminder that most of the questions concern bus drivers as well.

We await guidelines. We can’t predict the future course of COVID. What administrators and school boards can do is make it obvious that they’re intelligently concerned: monitoring conditions, tweaking procedures, ready to take important decisions promptly as circumstances dictate. We the public can, when we get the chance, make it clear that we too care.


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