Teachers Are Heroes

Celebrating Teachers on the Frontline


"A teacher affects eternity….”

Henry B. Adams

Teachers need more than a week of appreciation. Against a backdrop of a global pandemic and continuing social and racial unrest, educators across the country are rising to the occasion, working hard to ensure every student has the tools they need to reach their full potential.

Mrs. Lewis has been teaching for fourteen years, but has never seen a year like this. She was especially worried about the toll the pandemic was taking on James, one of her third-grade students. He had been showing up to his reading acceleration sessions and was making great progress, but lately was absent more than present. Mrs. Lewis called home and learned that James needed to share his computer with his older brother and his mom needed to take her phone to work. Mrs. Lewis found a computer and headphones to loan James and dropped them off at his house. Mrs. Lewis is a hero.

Ms. Fennell teaches first grade in Philadelphia. Recognizing the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on the community served by her school, she knew she needed to be particularly attentive to the social-emotional needs of her students. Ms. Fennell became an expert at ushering her children into Zoom break-out rooms to foster peer-to-peer interactions and build the relationships needed to counter the isolating impact of not being in school in person. Ms. Fennell is a hero.

Mrs. Lewis and Ms. Fennel, along with an estimated 3.3 million other teachers in the U.S K-12 education system, have met an unprecedented year with unprecedented heroism. There are many more stories just like these, where educators show resilience and genuine care for their students, going above and beyond to ensure learning continues for their students.  If ever there were a year to appreciate and celebrate teachers, this is it.

According to a USA Today article, approximately 76% of teachers are women. Along with fulfilling teaching duties, women are three times more likely to take on the additional burdens of guiding the learning of their own children, doing housework, and caring for a sick relative, according to a 2020 McKinsey study. Still, teachers across the country have met the moment, creating engaging virtual learning communities with their students. They have decorated their bedrooms, home offices, and living rooms with word walls and whiteboards, giving new meaning to the term one-room schoolhouse.
Now, as schools across the country begin to open, with districts making different choices about timing, many teachers have found themselves in a double-bind: needing to care for their own children who may still be at home, while also needing to go to work to care for their classroom children. A work-from-home policy does not work when you have children in your classroom.
Furthermore, there is a lot of understandable concern about the impact on learning caused by the pandemic. These concerns rest at the feet of our educators, and they require the proper support from school, district, state, and federal leadership levels to address these challenges. The American Rescue Plan provides $123 billion dollars to public K-12 education focused on helping schools reopen and address the learning needs of children. In Philadelphia, the school district provided support to teachers who lacked familiarity with using Google Classroom. In Pike Township, located in Indianapolis, educators received digital training to strengthen their distance learning training.
These types of initiatives MUST continue. We must equip our educators with the necessary tools and resources to reimagine, rebuild, improve, and sustain the infrastructure needed to reopen schools and cultivate an emotionally safe learning environment for students and families. Teachers will need to provide children with even more social-emotional and academic support than ever before. But they cannot do it alone.

What support do our hero teachers need to build back better? The following three recommendations rise to the top:

  • High-dosage tutoring. The EdResearch for Recovery Project out of the Annenberg Center at Brown University finds that the strongest evidence for producing larger learning gains for children is high-dosage tutoring, provided three times a week by a trained adult. Tutoring is one of the most effective ways to increase achievement for children who lack access to expensive programming that is offered outside of school.
  • Invest in school-community partnerships. Just like teachers, schools and districts cannot address child and family needs alone.  There is strong evidence that leveraging community resources can provide the integrated and coordinated services children need to improve learning outcomes. Audit district outcomes and inputs through an anti-racist lens. Now is an opportunity to deeply examine district policies, procedures, curriculum and assessments with one goal in mind: educational equity. With approximately four out of five Black and Latinx children not reading at grade level by fourth grade before the pandemic, a return to “normal” is not good enough.

Teachers are often called upon to solve the most difficult challenges faced by our communities.

National Teacher Appreciation Week is well-earned. Now let’s give teachers what they truly deserve, the financial and institutional support they need to be successful.

Joel Zarrow, Ph.D. is the Chief Executive Officer of Children’s Literacy Initiative, a national nonprofit organization based in Philadelphia, PA.



Celebrating Teachers on the Frontline

Our teachers are HEROES! And they deserve to be celebrated! This year, to celebrate our teachers, we kick-off our Heroes celebration of teachers working on the frontlines! Join us, as we share a series of thank yous to just some of the special teachers we work with across our regions.

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After a season of showcasing the unique stories of the teachers we serve and emphasizing the importance and impact of continued support for our teachers, schools, and larger communities, we come together to celebrate literacy! 

Learn more and secure your ticket today! >>