Though schools have ceased in-person instruction through the end of the school year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, they have gone to great lengths to maintain a sense of community for students and families.
Teachers, in particular, have risen to the challenge to create engaging and meaningful lessons for their students, said Tosh Scheps, curriculum and instruction coordinator for the Office of Catholic Schools.
“The amount of work, dedication and passion that our Catholic educators put into their work is inspiring. The amount of additional burden we have placed upon teachers, upon everyone, is tremendous,” he said.
Teachers are not only trying to be present for their students, but many, he noted, also are caring for their own children.
This year’s Teacher Appreciation Week, which is celebrated May 4-8, will be observed remotely, like everything else these days, via video, yard signs and gift deliveries.
Teachers, and parents alike, have been asked to take on a monumental task of educating children at home during this time of crisis, Scheps noted.
“They are educating their group of 90 to 120 students. The typical amount of work occurring in a six to eight-hour school day is really just scratching the surface of what an average teacher is working right now,” Scheps said.
And, teachers are certainly getting creative in their efforts to remotely educate their students.
Margie DeMuth, a first-grade teacher at St. Albert the Great School, has donned numerous costumes to coordinate with theme days, including pirate day, circus day, pajama day and stuffed animal day to name a few. DeMuth said she tries to engage her first-graders with daily motivational videos.
“I have been overwhelmed with the kind and supportive feedback from my parents. I have really made a connection with many of the families as we all face similar struggles during this challenging time,” DeMuth said. “Knowing I have the support and encouragement from my parents makes my job so much easier.”
St. Albert the Great School fifth-grade teacher Tyra Gallagher said it’s hard to not physically be in the classroom with her students.
“I love being with my kids. I love having discussions,” she said. “I am very into project-based learning in the classroom. For me, it’s been a huge struggle to take what I do in the classroom and put on the computer because almost everything I do is so collaborative,” she said.
Even with the struggles, Gallagher said her first priority has been making sure her students are okay.
“I need to make sure my kids are socially and emotionally well. They can’t learn if they are in turmoil or stressed out,” she said.
Ellen Martin, principal of St. Albert, said her faculty has worked “tirelessly throughout this online learning process.”
“We were prepared for a week or two, but quickly evaluated our procedures and effectiveness two weeks in, and adjusted accordingly,” Martin said. “With the many different needs of our families, we are trying to accommodate and support our school community while still challenging, guiding and instructing each student.”
St. Albert’s Parent Teacher Organization plans to deliver yard signs and gift cards to teachers to recognize teacher appreciation week. The school PTO also provided each staff member with a glass gift set made by a former St. Albert student. Parents purchased the sets for all faculty and staff: “A coffee mug for early morning fuel and a wine glass for after school treats,” Martin said.
Martin said the school has tried to keep up some of the school routines in an effort to provide some normalcy to students. She and assistant principal Debbie Abbot, begin each day with morning announcements. They announce daily birthdays, read a devotion and pray together.
“We are hoping that this small touch each morning will remind all of our students that we are thinking of them, praying with them and can’t wait until we are back together again,” Martin said.
Other schools, including St. Agnes School, also plan to recognize the efforts of educators. The St. Agnes PTO encouraged parents and students to create meaningful gifts to show appreciation to teachers: including class pictures, posters, cards and photo books with messages from students.
St. Agnes principal Julie Daly said parents “have gone out of their way to express their deep and sincere appreciation for the flexible and compassionate distance learning efforts from the St. Agnes faculty. When really, teachers do this work in partnership with families.”
Many schools in the Archdiocese of Louisville will conclude regular instruction next Friday, May 15.