Our Voice

Teacher Appreciation Week

It is Teacher Appreciation Week and this year there is a whole new appreciation for the work educators do every day. Although school buildings have been closed, education has not stopped. Teachers and education support professionals have been working harder than ever to keep learning opportunities accessible for students. 

Over the past two months, you have been asked to upend your teaching methods and completely rethink how you provide the best education for your students. You’ve worked around technology challenges, educated students and their parents, and used a lot of trial and error to deliver successful learning.  For most, this transformation happened in a matter of days.  

As we enter the final weeks of this unusual school year, educators are wondering if things will go back to normal when we return to school next fall. Governor Noem announced her “Back to Normal” plan, but what is the new normal? The reality is that we don’t know what the world will look like in the fall, but we must begin to plan.  We must partner with our administrators to make important decisions for our schools and our community. 

The voices of the health experts and educators on how and when to reopen schools must be what guides us. When the buildings re-open, we must prioritize the well-being of every person in the school. The health and safety of our students, families, and educators must be the primary focus!  Schools must provide and everyone must utilize personal protective equipment to keep educators and students safe; disinfectant items must be easily available.

There are many questions that need to be answered. What is the testing capacity and preparedness of the local healthcare providers?  Does the school have the ability to monitor the temperatures of students and staff?  What is the capacity of the school to mitigate risks through social distancing? What sanitation practices will be in place? How will students get to and from school without risk to them, their families and the education community? Our schools MUST have answers to these questions before we reopen in the fall. The health and safety of our students, their families and our educators depend on it!

Whatever “back to school” looks like, the top priority must be the health and safety of our students, families and educators. Decisions must be based on the data, facts and science. Schools must take the advice of the medical experts. Funding is available to ensure that schools have the supplies they need for a safe and healthy environment. School districts have received money from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES). These dollars are intended to help school districts deal with the impacts of coronavirus.  We need to work with our school boards and administrators to utilize the CARES money to make our schools a safe and healthy place for students and educators alike.  Now is the time to make that plan. Educator voice must be a part of developing every plan in every district.

The end of this school year is bittersweet.  We are missing so many traditions.  Proms, awards ceremonies, end of the year field trips, and, of course, graduations.  We will not get to say goodbye as our students walk out of classrooms for the last time. Yes, the coronavirus has taken much from us this year, but we are educators and we know we will have another opportunity to do what we love, educate the young people of our state.  As we close this unique school year, let’s take a moment to appreciate each other and celebrate the outstanding work educators across SD have done. Then, let’s take a deep breath,  roll up our sleeves and begin to prepare for next year. This is what we do; we advocate for students and educators. Providing a safe environment for everyone as we start the next school year must be priority #1. Together, we will ensure that our new normal is one of health and safety for our schools and our communities. 

Thank you for everything that you do.

With gratitude to all of you,

Mary McCorkle
South Dakota Education Association