On March 13, 2020, the school doors of the Miami-Dade County Public Schools were shuttered. Facing an unknown threat of a pandemic whose wrath we had yet to fully understand, many of us believed that a two-week respite from school, including Spring Break, would be more than sufficient to better understand COVID-19 and prepare our schools for the safe return of students and staff. We were wrong.
Miami-Dade County Public Schools became a part of the nearly 55.6 million U.S. students that were forced to abandon the physical school buildings they loved along with the principals, teachers, and employees within them. Overnight, the pandemic imposed a radical, unanticipated shift to online teaching and learning that many of us thought and hoped would be temporary. It would not be.
Nearly a year and a half later, with all schools scheduled to return to in-person learning this fall, we have yet and may never return to the days, weeks, and lives we knew prior to March 13, 2020.
Yet, through it all, our school board and district remained a beacon of hope. During these dark times, the light of leadership, learning, and love shone no brighter than in the everyday labor of teachers. Their work became increasingly appreciated and respected by parents who also had to assume the roles of teachers at home.
Larger society also experienced the widening of their eyes to the role that teachers play as part of the basic fabric of society’s safety net through the provision of school-based supports like meals, health clinics, counseling, and even housing.
This was the “same” larger society that, within the economic and political construct, often took for granted and too often understated, underplayed, and underpaid the role of teachers as the critical “linchpin” that makes society work.
As a former teacher, principal, superintendent, and one who has had to navigate my role as home “parent educator” and policymaker during the height of the pandemic, I believe this crisis provides a serious opportunity to bridge the gap between the strong appreciation, in theory, and the challenging working conditions for teachers, in practice.
During the pandemic our teachers were there. They taught our children. And they taught us. It is past time that we lean into the invaluable lessons from the classrooms of learning and life induced by the pandemic and work to provide teachers, especially those teaching in Black, poor, and underserved schools and communities, the working conditions and resources they need to fulfill their important and invaluable mission as educators.
We must not allow such lessons to fall into amnestic oblivion — and become yet another “moment,” but remember that our teachers will be there for us. We must continue to be there for them and continue a movement to applaud, respect, and value their role even more in the pandemic’s aftermath. For they are the pandemic’s real MVPs.
Steve Gallon is vice-chairman of the Miami-Dade County Public School Board and former superintendent of schools.