It’s time for Kansans to say thank you to selfless educators

On March 11, 2021, the Central Elementary School Cougars' Facebook congratulated Mrs. Burhenn’s class for meeting their class goal to earn a pajama party. (Central Elementary School, Olathe School District/Facebook)

The Kansas Reflector welcomes opinion pieces from writers who share our goal of widening the conversation about how public policies affect the day-to-day lives of people throughout our state. Brandi Leggett is in her second year as principal at Central Elementary School in the Olathe School District.

The 2020-21 school year has been like no other. Words such as hybrid, synchronous learning, asynchronous learning, remote, Zoom protocols, social distancing, mask guidelines and contact tracing have become our new norm. Despite these new norms, one thing didn’t change: our teachers’ dedication for our students.

I will never forget last Labor Day weekend, coming to my building on a Sunday to get a few things done. When I pulled into our parking lot, I quickly noticed mine wasn’t the only car — nor was it one of two in the lot. Instead, there were numerous cars. Countless teachers were working tirelessly to ensure everything would be perfect for the students’ return, whether in person or online. Teachers were putting in extra hours to quickly learn the hybrid method, which meant they’d have fewer students in classroom but would have to prepare more lessons: one set for in-person students and another for those joining online.

After a few weeks of hybrid instruction, teachers then planned for what in-person would look like when all the students who chose that method of learning would return. This was no easy task. It meant creating specific seating charts in the cafeteria, drawing lines for walking in the hall, developing a dismissal that would allow students to be spread apart, designating specific recess areas, reconfiguring classrooms, planning engaging lessons and developing cleaning procedures, all while trying to make things as normal as possible for students.

When they ran into roadblocks, teachers found alternative ways to best meet student needs. No visitors in the building. No problem! Teachers have connected with high school students and experts in various fields via Zoom to provide feedback on projects or provide expertise on specific content they are studying.

No assemblies? Students were honored in their classrooms for quarterly schoolwide awards, then the videos were shared with families to celebrate accomplishments. Teachers visited remote students’ homes to ensure they received their awards and were validated for their accomplishments.

Community partnerships have been vital. Whether it was our Parent Teacher Organization or faith partners, people have written positive notes for our staff, made donations to show their gratitude for educators or provided additional resources for families.

I have watched teachers take on additional time mentoring students to better build relationships with students. I have watched students learn new technology to better meet their own needs. I have watched teachers make vision boards with students and cheer on students at our goal bell as they were making gains towards their goals. I have watched teachers dissect standards and spend hours collaborating on real-world projects, discussing student data and collaborating with one another to put action plans in place.

Despite obstacles at times, it is the self-less efforts of educators, from our district leaders to classroom teachers to paras and aides and our custodial staff who have ensured many student success stories throughout this school year.

The Central Elementary Cougars’ March 26 Facebook status: “3rd-5th graders had a special Zoom with actor, comedian and writer, Na’im Lynn today. Recently, he was the voice of Meathead in the new Tom and Jerry Movie. Once he told students actor Kevin Hart was one of his best friends, they asked for him to call. Students were shocked when he did and let Mr. Hart say hi to them. Students had the opportunity to ask Na’im questions about his journey. His lasting advice was to be confident in yourself, be comfortable with yourself and embrace who you are.” Lynn and principal Brandi Leggett are friends from college. Some students took selfies with Hart. “The 3-5th grade students are still talking about this experience,” Leggett says. (Submitted)

Selfless is educators putting in long hours to plan or solve problems. It is educators using their personal money to support the students in their classrooms. It is educators buying clothing or food to ensure a family’s needs are met. It is educators losing sleep at night because they are worried about a child’s wellbeing. It is educators sacrificing time with their own families because they are rewriting a lesson again and again until they deem it perfect for their students.

When thinking about supporting educators, my best advice would be to work together to ensure proper funding is available to support their efforts. Talk to an educator to find out challenges they face. Determine if you can offer a helping hand. Celebrate student success stories and show appreciation.

Most importantly, tell an educator thank you. Take time to send that positive e-mail or handwritten note. It truly makes a difference.

Through its opinion section, the Kansas Reflector works to amplify the voices of people who are affected by public policies or excluded from public debate. Find information, including how to submit your own commentary, here.