In March of 2020, educators around the world were asked to conduct a breathtaking turnaround and shift entirely into remote instruction in mere days. Teachers suddenly went from seeing their students every day in person, to every day in small squares on a screen or in some cases, not seeing them at all. New technology that would typically have months of rollout planning was adopted and implemented in the blink of an eye. In May of 2020, many across the United States celebrated Teacher Appreciation Week with well-deserved accolades of obstacles overcome and mountains moved.
And as we all processed the pandemic-induced shock to the educational institutions around the world, we recognized that while some struggles were behind us, many were still ahead. Closing down school campuses and moving learning into living rooms with remote instruction was hard. For many institutions, however, getting resources and protocols lined up for school campuses to safely reopen has proven even harder.
At Turnitin, we place a high value on authenticity as an essential component of integrity. Upholding that tenant means that, as a company, we need to acknowledge both positive and painful truths. On the positive side, the 2020-21 school year certainly brought out incredible tenacity and creativity from our global education community. As Edward Lempinen put it in his article for UC Berkeley: “Disaster is a laboratory for innovation”. From adaptive technology to fundamentally shifting the ways we teach and learn, it would be inauthentic to say that there were not notable, beneficial outcomes that resulted from a very unique year.
By that same token, if we are to be authentic, we must acknowledge the continual stresses and strains of this difficult period on which future teachers will someday provide lessons. It is easy for an organization like Turnitin — which develops tools to aid and ease the work of educators — to highlight the importance of education, the role that school campuses play in anchoring communities, and the magical bond between teacher and student. One does not need to look far, however, to see the evidence of student-teacher relationships tested when mediated only by camera and computer monitor; communities tested as the needs of different individuals and different families come into tension; the promise of education undelivered where technology infrastructure does not yet sufficiently reach. Decades of conversations about equity in education have come into stark relief as those with resources find ways to cope, while those with less fall behind.
In the end, we are all students of this world. Many of us have learned something, no matter how small, from this past year. There are parents who fielded questions at home from students grasping to understand a new concept, who may have learned the value of pacing, differentiation, and graphic organizers. There are communities that installed new windows and HVAC systems, illustrating the importance of investing in school facilities and ongoing maintenance. There are policymakers who saw a significant increase in student attrition, who may have learned the true cost of an under-addressed digital divide.
And as for what teachers have learned, we feel it will be expressed best from the teachers themselves. Because during Teacher Appreciation Week 2020, it was important to celebrate teachers, but for Teacher Appreciation Week 2021, it is more important to honor teachers.
This year, we are asking you, our teachers, to raise your voices and to say what was hard. We want to highlight the true, authentic moments of this past year and not shy away from them. And we hope to find small, genuine ways to celebrate the good outcomes that can come from challenging moments, especially when those challenges are faced together.
Below are a few quotes from our North American educators; from humble and tearful, to joyful and moving, these are the moments that will make this year’s Teacher Appreciation Week resonant. From here, we encourage you to share your moments with us and our global community on the Turnitin Forum.
So: what authentic moment best captures 2020-2021 for you?
"Seeing students walk through the hallways on the first day of school with masks on, chatting, and filling the building with their energy was a memorable moment that made me realize that schools provide much more than just academics." (Ashley Huckabone, Literacy Coach, Guilford, CT)
"There was always a fear that technology would completely take over a teacher's job. It was always a topic my colleagues discussed especially when the pandemic began. But after this past year, we all realize teachers are needed more than ever... The human connection is more important than any other time and hopefully, we can return to teaching in-person similar to other years so that our students can feel connected, safe, and succeed." (Lisa LaBrake, English Teacher, Amherst, NY)
"...I think all of the teachers have learned through patience and resilience to care for the emotional and intellectual needs of the students. It’s about every student, every day and I truly feel that our kiddos (I like to call them that) are in a better place now after the continued stress of online schooling, mental stress, the demands of transitions, and the constant uncertainty that they faced last year..." (Rachna Nath, Science Teacher, Chandler, AZ)
"I am inspired by other teachers, especially this year. I have taught virtually for four years and prepared for it with training and certifications a year in advance. There was nothing to prepare us for the abrupt flip of 2020-2021, but we were not phased. Educators learned new instructional tools to maintain rigor and engagement adapting to a whole new world within moments. You are all amazing!" (Marina Amador, ELA Instructor, Noro, CA)