During the pandemic, I’ve been able to walk through the trails and forests around Washington, D.C. There is something calming walking in the presence of centuries old trees and contemplating the important role they play in our lives—fresh air to breath, shelter for animals, adventure for children, and peace for the urban hiker.
I can trace my interest in trees and wildlife to some of my earliest memories. In particular, I remember my junior infants classroom, a nature table, and Mrs. Healy. Each day, she asked us what we saw on the way to school and took time to listen to our answers. Through these exchanges, I learned that you could count the rings of trees to tell their age, that a sycamore leaf has five fingers, and that earthworms have saddles. And somehow during these exchanges, she taught me how to read, write, and count. Stepping through the door of her classroom brought curiosity and wonder to five-year-old me. I think often how fortunate I was to have a teacher like her.
As a former teacher of almost 13 years, I appreciate how rewarding teaching can be. My students taught me many valuable life lessons, such as the importance of kindness, fairness, taking turns, listening, and patience. I know how much time, energy, and dedication goes into teaching. Being a teacher and contributing to a young person’s learning is a unique privilege—and yes, it can be very stressful!
I say all this knowing that I have not faced the circumstances that teachers are facing now during the COVID-19 pandemic. There has never been a more stressful time to be a teacher.
I often think of my colleagues in Liberia. This past year, they’ve responded to the learning crisis with courage and determination that learning must and will continue. They’ve driven long distances to remote areas to get reading and learning materials to learners at home. They’ve made radio programs and worked diligently to equip the current generation with the knowledge and skills they will need for their future. They’re doing so even with concerns for the health and safety of their loved ones, anxiety about the future, and the daunting challenge of returning to schools where many students have dropped out or fallen behind.
This Teacher Appreciation Week, as I walk through the forest, I will be thinking about teachers past and present and the important role they’re playing in our communities. I want to say thank you to Mrs. Healy for teaching me how to find peace in the forest and introducing me to a career that brings so much reward. I will be thinking about the seeds of knowledge, wonder, and curiosity that teachers around the world are planting during this most difficult time. I want them to know that I am grateful for their efforts and that their work is meaningful and will impact generations to come.
What teacher would you like to remember during Teacher Appreciation Week? Please share below.
Mary Sugrue, EDC senior international technical advisor for international basic education, has over 20 years of experience in early grade reading and numeracy instruction, gender integrated programming, inclusive education pedagogy, and teacher professional development.