Tray M. Cunningham shared this social media post, which Shelby County Schools retweeted Sept. 11: “Week 2: 2020 is teaching me that although I’m a teacher, I’ll forever be a learner. Folded hands #SCSVirtualVictory #TheShire #Year5 #LearningNeverStops #NewIdeas #NewStrategies #BlackMenTeach #GermanshireStrong.” (Photo: SCS on Twitter)

by Curtis Weathers —

Curtis Weathers

First, let me congratulate and welcome our nation’s new designated Secretary of Education, Dr. Miguel Cardona.

We celebrate the Biden administration’s choice, which needs approval by the U.S. Senate, for this very important position and I’m sure we are all anxious to begin the hard work of providing high-quality educational opportunities to all of America’s children.  

We look forward to doing a deeper dive on Dr. Cordona next month and explore some of the challenges his administration will face going forward. 

I started writing this column focused on an entirely different set of issues. But as I thought about the many challenges facing educators in 2020, I decided to reverse course and focus on things we should be thankful for as we move forward to bringing an end to one of the most horrific public health chapters in our nation’s history – the COVID-19 pandemic.

Empty SCS classrooms signal the scope and ongoing threat of the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo: SCS on Twitter)

This is an excellent time to reflect on the future of our educational institutions and their leadership. We must assess the damage and use what we are learning to strengthen our educational infrastructure and make it better.  

There are many chapters to be written about our experiences in 2020. We have withstood the most egregious assaults on our democracy in the history of our nation.

Our economy is under incredible stress as we are being ravaged by the most devastating public health crises in our lifetime. But through it all, American resolve, ingenuity, and resiliency have found a way.  

But as we look back, my heart goes out to the students, teachers and staff who work and attend our K-12 schools and institutions. 

Your work and sacrifices have been duly noted. Your worth and value have been amplified and, at some point soon, our appreciation as a nation needs to be appropriately demonstrated. 

These individuals have sacrificed their lives (and that of their families) to provide teaching and learning opportunities for millions of children throughout the nation under the most stressful of circumstances. 

Many returned to in-person learning at their schools even though they feared for their students’ and colleagues’ health and safety. They continue to work each day to make the in-person learning experience as safe and productive as possible.  

Others, both students and teachers, use online virtual platforms to conduct classes from the confines of their homes.  

Neither of these is a perfect solution to the current crisis. Learning loss will occur and, in some communities, it will occur at an extremely high level.

Students, teachers and staff will get sick, and some will even die as a result of getting infected with the coronavirus.

To all of you, your work and sacrifices are much appreciated and will not be forgotten. Like so many other essential workers in our society, your dedication is commendable and should be vigorously celebrated after the dangers of this virus have been diminished.

Colleges and universities have made substantial contributions to the mitigation of this pandemic. 

I have a newfound awareness and respect for their work and their contributions to our society’s health and wellness.  

We forget that the brain trust we rely on to fight pandemics and other public health crises is a product of the dedicated work of our colleges and universities. 

Their public health professors and departments have stepped to the forefront in providing not only guidance for their respective campuses, but they have participated directly in research efforts to develop vaccines and treatments for fighting the coronavirus.

We are proud of their work and salute their impressive intellectual capabilities and professionalism.    

During this pandemic, the American people have been held hostage to our political leadership’s epic failures from top to bottom. Our president abandoned us, the Secretary of Education never showed up to the party and, in many cases, state-level leadership has taken on the flavor of its political affiliations.  

At the local levels, however, superintendents, school leaders, and teachers are doing their best to carry out directives from those above them. 

I commend principals and teachers, particularly, for doing the hard work, making the tough decisions while managing the very stress-laden teaching and learning processes our children are now engaged in.

When we eventually return to a more normal existence, we will walk away from this pandemic with new skills, knowledge and technologies that can be used to fight future public health crises.  

The year 2020 has been an incredibly difficult year for educators.  But once again, we have reaffirmed the incredible resiliency of our profession. 

So, to our fellow educators and their support teams, THANK YOU!  

We hope and pray that 2021 is a better year and that we continue to use what we are learning to improve the lives of our children and our communities.  

God bless you and please stay safe.

(Follow TSD education columnist Curtis Weathers on Twitter (@curtisweathers); email: [email protected])