Last year at this time, we cut out a giant paper tree and hung it in our library. When teachers and staff came to the library for our traditional staff Thanksgiving dinner, they wrote what they were thankful for on paper leaves and put them on the tree.

This year, we didn’t have our staff Thanksgiving dinner – instead, a local restaurant provided barbecue and the PTO delivered ice cream sandwiches. Teachers got food from the office, where we served pulled pork and smoked tofu from behind a plexiglass shield, donned in our finest PPE. Teachers ate their food in their classrooms in between Zoom conferences with parents.

We also don’t have a paper tree. Instead, we have a Padlet (which, to the uninitiated, is like a virtual chalkboard for virtual Post-Its). Our leadership team titled the Padlet, “Thanksgiving Tree of Things That Don’t Suck About This Year.” And lo and behold, it is full of heartfelt gratitude for the incredible accomplishments we’ve had this fall.

Regardless of politics, in spite of worries and navigating completely uncharted territory, our staff has rallied in ways never dreamed of to support the children who are attending school in person and online this fall. We essentially built an entirely new school this summer. Then, our teachers took a leap of faith, entered our buildings and have been teaching their hearts out ever since.

We walk around Memorial Middle School in awe of the learning taking place. Yesterday, a science teacher had students making ice cream in Ziploc bags to show changes in states of matter. Leading up to the election, a humanities teacher had students debating, just like he would have pre-pandemic. Of course, the debaters were 6 feet apart and masked. But their well-structured arguments outshone any social distancing requirements. The wheels in their brains were turning. Fast.

We also have students for whom any type of in-person learning is not a possibility because of health conditions. Yet even online, teachers and students have created virtual classrooms teeming with discussion and debate. Don’t get us wrong – this is not the ideal way to teach children, at least not most children. This pandemic is beyond our control, yet every day our students are greeted online by teachers with huge smiles and the tenacity to make remote learning work.

This pandemic has stopped our students from playing with friends, from playing sports, from hugging their grandparents. But it hasn’t stopped them from learning. And this is entirely because of the choice our district made to reopen schools and the tireless work of the entire school community to make it happen.

This Thanksgiving, we are grateful for our district’s leadership – for our superintendent and his staff; our custodial, facilities and clerical crews; and for our incredible nursing team. We are grateful they had the courage to bring our students back to our teachers in a way that has been as safe as it can be. Yes, we have had COVID cases at our school – three, for those of us keeping track – but so far, no cases have spread inside of school. At this moment, our school is a safe place to be because we have a school department that provided the PPE, staff and protocols necessary to open safely.

We’re also incredibly grateful for our families who choose to send their children into cyberspace and our building so we can connect with them. And we’re beyond thankful for our students, who come to school wearing masks and make the best of this bizarre world in order to learn.

But above all, we are grateful for our teachers and staff. If you are a teacher, you know just how crazy this year has been so far. And yet, you are still here, teaching children the skills and knowledge they need to grow into well-informed, compassionate members of our democracy. The virus hasn’t stopped our commitment to students or to our collective vision of the future. It will not stop us from continuing to reach children and help them get through this difficult time, online and in person, from behind masks and plexiglass. And for this, educators, we have you to thank.


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