By KAYLI ORTIZ
New Mexico Teacher
In the spring, teachers had a “superhero” moment. When the world as we knew it was flipped on its head, there was unprecedented clarity on how central teachers and public education are to our children’s welfare, our economy, and our very routines.
When Shonda Rhimes, the creator of “Grey’s Anatomy”, tweeted, “Been homeschooling a 6-year old and 8-year old for one hour and 11 minutes. Teachers deserve to make a billion dollars a year. Or a week,” the tweet got over 588K likes and 102K retweets. It seemed many could relate.
That moment was fleeting. For the past few months, teachers have been portrayed more like villains, despite the fact that the work is not any less challenging this fall than it was in the spring. Teachers are giving three times as much as in a “normal” year but are less appreciated than ever. Case in point: Mrs. Lengstorf.
I know exactly what an excellent educator she is, because I’ve known her since I was small; her son and I grew up together, and she was my middle school English teacher. I always loved reading and writing, but her efforts multiplied my love for words. Throughout high school, she sponsored my graduating class, helping us prepare prom and commencement, chaperoning trips, and generally just offering support through our teenage years. She was inspiring to the point that I looked to her when choosing my own life’s work, and when I returned to my school as an English teacher myself, she became my colleague and mentor.
In March, when Mrs. Lengstorf found out she would not be going back to school, she began to plan. She learned how to use Zoom and Google Classroom without any formal training. She found new ways to grade and offer feedback. Over the summer, as decisions were made at the district and state level, we, like our students and families, waited for news of what our work would look like in the fall and continued trying to plan.
Fortunately, our school adopted a hybrid model that afforded the district the opportunity to bring students with the highest needs back to campus. At the beginning of the semester, Mrs. Lengstorf learned a camera system that projects her classroom to the students who are at home, whom she must manage in addition to the students in her room. She learned procedures for keeping the students who are present on campus safe: a list that seems to change from day to day.
She’s working especially hard to ensure her students, more tempted than ever to just use search engines, aren’t plagiarizing. Most challenging of all for a teacher like Mrs. Lengstorf, is the fact that it has been harder to connect with kids who only know her and her class under these less than ideal circumstances. Trying to counsel a student as they navigate adolescence is one thing, doing it through a screen is another.
She has spent hours at the school on her weekends for years, her car in the parking lot throughout Sunday, but this year, it’s there later and later.
She recently said to me: “Parents are losing patience because their child isn’t in school – or not in school on the “right day” and despite the efforts of teachers and administrators, we are now a target for the frustration they are experiencing.”
So what’s the ask? If you want to know what teaching is like in a pandemic, ask a teacher. As we approach the legislative session, contact your legislators and let them know that it’s important to you and your family that they support educators. Mrs. Lengstorf and the teachers in your community are not any less important to our routines, our economy, and our child’s welfare now than they were when the pandemic began.
In November, they are exactly the superheroes we said they were in March.
Kayli Ortiz teaches Pre-K in the Reserve Independent School District. She is a Teach Plus New Mexico Policy Fellowship alumna.