This Teacher Appreciation Week Comes With a Bittersweet Gift for Educators

May 4, 2020 12:00:00 AM


I teach and I write. These are my passions.  

So you can imagine my bewilderment when I experienced paralyzing writer’s block, all while penning a piece for Teacher Appreciation Week.

After all, I’m never at a loss for words when asked to boast about my profession, and certainly not when provided an opportunity to celebrate my colleagues. I can sing their praises louder than the obnoxious whistling of my tea kettle, which is currently sounding the alarm that my morning brew is ready for consumption. 

[pullquote position="right"]Teachers are incredible superhumans.[/pullquote] This is a fact, quantified by science. Okay, I’m not actually certain that the aforementioned quantitative research exists. But it has to, right? I mean, there has to be an existing study that analyzes the unconventional genetic, cognitive, or personality traits which somehow compel us to sign up to do what we do. 

So, I asked myself: Why am I feeling so uninspired? Why on day one of Teacher Appreciation Week, while sitting in the quiet solitude of the morning and drinking my perfect cup of Earl Grey, do I feel completely incapable of expressing my love for our profession? 

And just then an epiphany washed over me, one more violent than the frequent handwashing I’ve engaged in over the past six weeks. Perhaps this unprecedented writer’s block is fueled by unprecedented times. Perhaps I can’t write because I am currently lacking daily contact with the very thing that inspires me most—my students.

Teachers Are Inspired By Their Students

When I write a bitter diatribe about inequitable school funding or the inequities of AP course requirements, my inspiration stems from conversations with my students. When I write about the relationships we build in teaching, I am inspired by my encounters with my students. When I write about controversial topics such as politics in the classroom or guns in schools, I draw motivation from the debates I witness between my students. And when I write about educator apprehension or teacher self-efficacy, I do so because I fear I’m not enough for my students. 

I see the world through the lens of other people’s children, and this impacts everything that I believe in and everything that I write about. Unfortunately, [pullquote]this pandemic has robbed me of the very thing that inspires me more than any other—working daily with kids.[/pullquote] And my story is one of many.

Yet, ever the optimist, I only allowed myself to engage in self-pity momentarily because I quickly realized that never have I been more confident and secure in my decision to become a teacher.

Never Forget What It Feels Like to Be Separated From Our Students

This unprecedented moment has taught me that I am destined to work with kids. I am designed to be a teacher. This moment, however heartbreaking and tragic it might seem at the time, is a gift that will sustain me during the undeniable upcoming challenges which lay ahead. Mostly, I will never forget how much I miss my students in this moment.

And that is my “gift” to my colleagues during this bizarre, unconventional, atypical, extraordinary Teacher Appreciation Week—a reminder that we should never forget this moment. In the indubitably trying times which are on the horizon, never forget what it felt like to be separated from your students. It is something I will carry with me for the duration of my career, a memory that will both haunt and inspire me to keep going, keep fighting. It will embolden and energize me to continue to raise my voice fiercely and unapologetically for kids, and I hope it does the same for you.

Thank you for all that you do to empower children. And on the tough days when you question whether you’re doing enough, [pullquote]never forget how much you missed your students in the midst of this pandemic.[/pullquote] Most importantly, however, never forget how much your students miss you in this moment. Happy Teacher Appreciation Week!

Lindsey Jensen

Lindsey L. Jensen is the 2018 Illinois Teacher of the Year and the 2020 National Education Association Foundation for Teaching Excellence Illinois Awardee. She is Vice-President of the Illinois State Teachers of the Year Chapter, and she serves on the Illinois State Board of Education State Preparation and Licensure Board as an Illinois Education Association Representative. Lindsey is a Teach Plus Policy Alum, and she is an Advisory Board Member for the Region 9 Comprehensive Center. She has over 15 years of educational experience, holds a bachelor’s degree in speech communication from Southern Illinois University, a master’s degree in secondary English education from Oakland City University, and she is finishing her doctorate in the fall of 2020 in teaching and learning from Illinois State University. In her free time, Lindsey travels the country speaking and engaging in educational advocacy. She has delivered over 100 keynotes at Northwestern University, SXSWEdu, The National Association of Teacher Educators Conference, The Raising Student Achievement Conference, and WITCon. She is a proud public school teacher and academic dean in Dwight, Illinois.

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