Opinion

Audio Astra: Thoughtful thanks to our pandemic-era educators in Kansas

November 12, 2021 3:33 am

In this moment, writes Eric Thomas, pandemic-era educators simply deserve our gratitude. (Getty Images)

Audio Astra reviews recent audio reporting on Kansas news, including podcasts and radio stories. Eric Thomas directs the Kansas Scholastic Press Association and teaches visual journalism and photojournalism at the University of Kansas.

Dear Kansas public teachers and school staff: 

This is a thank you note. 

It was not assigned. Or described in your syllabus.

You don’t need to grade it. Or type comments into your electronic gradebook. 

You don’t need to check whether it was submitted by the deadline. Or give me an extension because I didn’t feel inspired at the moment. 

You don’t need to monitor whether I am wearing a mask while I write this in your classroom. Or create an activity for Zoom aimed at keeping me awake. 

You don’t need to defend the novels we read earlier this week for their appropriateness. Or deflect parents who wonder why an essay they helped their student write got an 88 rather than a 98 out of 100. 

In this moment, you simply deserve our gratitude. Our thanks goes to kindergarten teachers and high school custodians, to veteran principals and their front office staff, to middle school cafeteria workers and first-year counselors. This is the crew that has muscled through school since March 2020.

Many parents and community members have worked to derail your work. As you learned the impossible jiu-jitsu of teaching elementary school students through remote iPad screens, parents dissected your word choice, critiqued your patience and second-guessed your interior decorating. 

Other parents lifted their students — often some of the most affluent and high-achieving — from your public schools to enroll at private schools with fewer mask regulations. And what about the vicious timing of those parents tattooing any effort toward inclusivity as being a radical leftist form of white guilt? Parents often have been brutal to you during these unforgiving 20 months.

And yet, you work to improve our schools.

Many parents and community members have worked to derail your work. As you learned the impossible jiu-jitsu of teaching elementary school students through remote iPad screens, parents dissected your word choice, critiqued your patience and second-guessed your interior decorating.

– Eric Thomas

 

This week’s “KSPrincipals Listen Up!” podcast from the Kansas Principals Association profiles Turner Middle School principal Bill Weber and his “intentional” revisions to his school. Host Trevor Goertzen and Weber repeat the word “intentional” to signal how the changes at Turner Middle School have centered, as we would hope, on students, rather than what makes the parents or teachers comfortable. In that spirit, Weber added Focus Fridays, a program that provides a single-classroom learning environment for the entire school day on Fridays. It’s a noble and thoughtful response to the chaos of recent school life. 

It’s also an incredible feat that Weber and his staff could accomplish new projects within school years rocked by daily COVID risks. Nonetheless, Weber and countless principals like him (maybe even you) made such “intentional” changes during the pandemic for student well-being. 

Other recent podcasts remind us of the shifting insecurity COVID has brought to your buildings, Kansas educators. The Nov. 5 installment of KCUR’s daily podcast “Kansas City Today” featured Frank Morris’s sweeping explanation of how cafeterias have scavenged for food — and even food containers — in the face of recent supply chain nightmares. 

During the same Morris story, a food service director from outside Kansas describes the constant obstacles: “There’s just an endless overcoming that we are trying to do.” You certainly know that phrase — “endless overcoming’’ — from your work in our schools during the pandemic.

And yet, you still rise for our kids. 

Consider a recent incident at Blue Valley Northwest High School in Overland Park. Its student publication, BVNWnews, reported how teachers at the school supported their students after a bathroom was vandalized with a racial slur. Just like you have probably done with your fellow teachers with some other issue, this school’s teachers provided students compassion. They shared classroom strategies of how to talk to students about race through a message to their fellow teachers. They were poised to do so because they meet each Sunday on Zoom “to discuss issues of race, and (read) books and listen to podcasts on how to end racism,” editor in chief Megan Yates reported.

“I, like every other teacher here, loves the kids who go to school here,” English teacher Kyle Farrington told BVNWnews. “I want to teach in a building where students know they will be respected and cared for, and I want all staff members to feel that way as well.”

We, as parents and guardians, hear this teacherly compassion echo when we ask our kids, “What happened at school today?” Through interactions big and small, you send our kids home stronger, smarter and happier. In the face of so much, you and fellow teachers have been the correct answer to an exam that continues to test us all. 

Thanks indeed. 

Gratefully yours, 

The parents and guardians of Kansas schoolchildren

What did we miss? Email [email protected] to let us know of a Kansas-based audio program that would be interesting to Audio Astra readers.

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Eric Thomas
Eric Thomas

Eric Thomas directs the Kansas Scholastic Press Association, a nonprofit that supports student journalism throughout the state. He also teaches visual journalism and photojournalism at the William Allen White School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Kansas in Lawrence. He lives in Leawood with his wife and two children.

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