Teaching looks different than it did just five months ago.
Educators are quickly adapting to a new way of teaching. They’re working overtime to meet the demands of virtual instruction, reaching out to families to ensure basic needs are met, and connecting with students so no one feels like they are alone. And in many cases, doing all of this while taking care of their own families.
As a nonprofit dedicated to attracting, retaining, and celebrating teacher excellence, we knew that our programs and services would have to adapt right along with those teachers we serve.
But how do we best value our educators in the midst of this public health crisis? How do we make sure that teachers feel that we value their role in our community?
Our first priority has been working to do our part to ensure teachers feel safe and stay healthy. Tucson Values Teachers has partnered with the Thomas R. Brown Foundation to raise $20,000 for personal protective equipment, including masks, sanitizing supplies, thermometers, and more. We have identified a local medical supply company to purchase PPE and are currently working on distributing these items to Southern Arizona school districts for use by teachers.
We also implemented some changes to our annual supply drive, Tucson Supplies Teachers. We heard from teachers across the region that their needs are, understandably, vastly different this year.
Some educators are teaching out of their home and require items such as printer paper, ink, and stamps. Others are in the classroom with smaller groups of students and are in need of plexiglass desk dividers, more flexible seating options, and additional sets of basic learning tools such as scissors and markers so that no student is having to share supplies.
In response, teachers can now sign up for a chance to receive their choice of either an Amazon gift card or a gift certificate to Jonathan’s Educational Resources. Teachers can now pick the business that best fits their needs and also select the items that best fits their situation.
The inspiring part is that the Tucson Supplies Teachers campaign is truly a community effort. From partnerships with Tucson Electric Power and Ell Group, to individual donations by local residents—we’ve already been able to raise more than $90,000.
Social distancing has forced us to alter some of our programs but it has not deterred us from celebrating and awarding outstanding educators. Our monthly Teacher Excellence Award continues to highlight great teachers but has shifted to a virtual surprise award presentation—usually crashing a morning live lesson with the class so students, administrators, and families can still cheer on their teacher.
Our annual fundraiser, Stand Up 4 Teachers, will also now be a virtual celebration. Scheduled for Nov. 4, the program will be livestreamed from the University of Arizona where we will still be able to recognize the Raytheon Leaders in Education Award winners and finalists as well as honor Ron Shoopman with the Spirit of Education Award.
We’re increasing our public outreach efforts by finding ways to showcase the innovative and interesting ways teachers have successfully transitioned to online teaching. We’ve heard stories of teachers continuing to hold virtual reading circles well into the summer months to help students feel connected to others. Teachers driving to each of their student’s homes just to check in and say hello. Teachers holding one-on-one virtual lessons for students in the evening who are having to work jobs during the day to help support their families.
Teachers are doing amazing work and we want our community to see that.
Lastly, while it wasn’t a result of COVID-19, Tucson Values Teachers has also recently made a change which allows additional educators to participate in our signature programs and receive support during this unprecedented time.
We have long understood the importance of quality early childhood education and the role Pre-K teachers play in students’ development and long-term success in school. Tucson Values Teachers can now officially recognize and support Pre-K teachers in our programs and services through our Board-approved new Vision and Mission Statement.
Even during such uncertainty, we know that at the heart of our community is our teachers. We have great teachers. They are dedicated to the success of their students. By supporting our teachers when they need it most, we ensure that the heart of our community continues to feel safe, healthy and valued.
Andy Heinemann is a former teacher and principal and current CEO of Tucson Values Teachers.