Social distancing and quarantine efforts in response to COVID-19 have cut the 2019-20 public school year short. Watauga County has announced that they will dismiss for the summer break on May 28. This has left many teachers feeling like things are incomplete. In honor of Teacher and School Staff Appreciation Day, we just wanted to say, "thank you." Your work is not in vain.
By Josh Anderson, Community Life Pastor
When I was in fourth grade, my family moved to Burnsville, Minn., a second-ring suburb located approximately 20 miles south of the Twin Cities. It was a difficult transition for me in particular because it presented two big problems for such a little kid: a new school and an uncertain future.
Before the school year started, my parents took me on a visit to Neil Armstrong Elementary. The first thing I noticed was that the brick building was round. A unique design that actually offered me some relief. How could I possibly get lost in the friendly confines of a facility with seemingly no wrong turns to make?
Beyond its disk-like architecture, everything else about Neil Armstrong was pretty elementary. Office. Lunchroom. Classrooms. Nothing out of the world. That is until I walked into Mr. Dahl's room. (Like the children's author, only much more Midwestern English than King's English.)
Although his classroom was constructed with drab carpet and off-white walls, it was flooded with warm, natural light. The nearly blinding brightness was not at all what I expected from a public school classroom. Apparently not only was a circular structure easy to navigate, but it also allowed every classroom to sit prominently on the outside of the building. The result offered sunlight unimpeded access through oversized windows.
But perhaps even more memorable was the classroom mascot: a colorful bird perched in a wire cage. He sat gazing out the large window—the bird always, Mr. Dahl only occasionally—in the front of the classroom. I've met teachers who have adorned their rooms with white rats and over-fed hamsters before, but never a canary. Mr. Dahl and his song-bird set the tone for one of the best school years of my life.
A few weeks later I walked into Neil Armstrong Elementary and hung an immediate right after entering the main doors. I was confident of where I was headed and excited about where I was going.
Mr. Dahl didn't disappoint. He opened my mind to a big, beautiful world of learning that was exciting and life-changing. It was Mr. Dahl who would spark my interest in writing—a passion I still pursue to this day. With a number-2 pencil as my instrument and the wide-ruled paper as my audience, the words I wrote were my performance. Mr. Dahl taught me that writing gave me a voice to sing like the bird in his classroom.
Once a week, Mr. Dahl would pass out a coloring page. On it, the outlined image presented our assignment: a cartoonish depiction that served as the subject of our story. To this day I still remember the week that featured a plump caterpillar eating a leaf. The drawing inspired me to write a parody I entitled "Romancing the Leaf." The plot was novel. The spelling was horrid. And I was forever hooked on telling stories.
I am forever grateful for Mr. Dahl. And my appreciation for teachers has only grown over the years. I have come to realize educators are following more than just a vocation—they are embracing a true calling. Teachers love teaching. And every school year presents a new opportunity for them to help kids grow, and learn, and develop. Lord knows it's not for the money.
Cutting the school year short in our continued battle with COVID-19 is necessary. But I understand why it is heartbreaking for so many teachers. Nobody knew the last day the kids walked out of the building would be the last day of school.
Teachers were left holding months of unfinished assignments and unrealized goals for their classrooms. And perhaps they were also left with unanswered questions about inspiring a song in the hearts of their kids.
I wish I had the easy answer for our teachers. But even for a self-professed writer, words don’t come easy right now.
We're all riding a rollercoaster of emotions. Depending on the hour, we feel devastated, paralyzed, hopeful, angry, fearful, heartbroken, overwhelmed, joyful, nothing at all ... repeat. This is a challenging time when nothing feels normal.
Words of Encouragement
What I can provide is my heartfelt thanks to our teachers and an encouraging word our Heavenly Father:
"Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the Lord’s work, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain." — 1 Corinthians 15:58
You have not labored in vain. God will use the school year that was cut short by COVID-19 as an anthem for strength and perseverance. And through the loving commitment of our teachers, He has taught our kids this resounding song of hope. And they are all the better for it.
Thank you, teachers.