Our Virtual Heroes

Morning blessing for Torah study; courtesy SSDS Bergen.

By Steve Freedman

The numbers are mind-blowing. As of March 18, some 100,000 public schools and 34,000-plus private schools in 39 states in the U.S. are closed or will close to help slow the spread of COVID-19, displacing nearly 40 million children, and leaving teachers across the country scrambling to turn their living rooms, back yards, and kitchens into virtual classrooms.

In the wake of a nationwide pandemic, moving to online instruction is a massive undertaking for schools and teachers. It represents a deep dive into the realm of ultimate improvisation and flexibility, and a dramatic pivot from the high-touch method and face-to-face curriculum we know to an uncharted world of e-learning.

Nearly overnight, we have asked teachers to make this colossal shift on behalf of our children. And they have. A recent New York Times article pointed out that “running a classroom digitally is so much harder than bringing an adult workplace online.”

This wake-up call to the critical role teachers play in our children’s lives has reaffirmed what I already know from my 17 years serving as a head of two prominent Jewish day schools: Teachers are truly unsung heroes, particularly in times like this. Perfectionists by nature, teachers are tirelessly working to offer meaningful educational experiences during this national crisis. And yet, I think it is hard for those who do not teach to fully grasp the enormity of this challenge and the stress it brings.

I read an excerpt from an article written by Ohio-based high school teacher and freelance education journalist Alexandra Frost, about teaching in the time of the Coronavirus. She wrote that, “Teachers love their students deeply and want nothing more than for them to have a positive experience regardless of circumstance. So when thousands of teachers heard that they had a mere 24 hours to move instruction online, they naturally started working harder to figure out logistics … One day, or week, isn’t enough time to plan an online course … Teachers who virtually teach as a career spend months planning, examining resources, and recording videos. This is not the same thing, nor should it be, as we have very little time to prepare and we will be planning and teaching almost simultaneously as we all figure out what it will look like.”

Ms. Frost goes on to describe the challenges teachers face developing relevant virtual lessons as well as the challenges parents and students face at home trying to manage them. 

In addition, we must remember that many of our teachers are also parents themselves, trying to care for and support their own children. Parents around the country are depending on their children’s teachers to provide structure, learning, and activities, and teachers also have to be available to their own families.

Our teachers at SSDS Bergen, around the country, and in many places around the globe, are rising to the occasion. They are among the true heroes of this crisis. A friend of mine likened teachers as among those on the front lines.

It is amazing how far we’ve come transitioning to a distance learning model, and how much has been accomplished in the last couple of weeks. As we embrace this new (temporary) normal, I am confident as our teachers become even more proficient in distance learning, providing a sense of normalcy and reassurance for our children, the stress level will slowly begin to diminish for everyone – our teachers, students, and parents.

Please, let each of us take a moment and share our appreciation with our children’s teachers. As Ben Zoma said: Who is wise? He who learns from all [people], as it is written, “I have gained understanding from all my teachers.” Please show gratitude to our teachers by letting them know how much we appreciate them. Supportive words go a long way.

Steve Freedman is the Head of School at the Solomon Schechter Day School of Bergen County. Previously, he served as Head of School at the Hillel Day School in Farmington Hills, Michigan for 16 years.