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Look for the Helpers

Look for the "Bills" and "Amys"

In a Crisis, Look for the Helpers
January 20, 2022 Kimberly Thaggard, Ph.D.
helpful-teacher

Look for the Helpers, Look for People Like Bill and Amy

I write these blogs every other month for our company, and I am going to be honest, this month I almost outsourced the job to a former student who works for the Associated Press. Since January 5th, while quarantined mind you, I sat in front of my computer screen, multiple times, wondering if school shootings, mask wearing, or student access to social media would be my theme. Like all my articles I sought out smarter writers with larger research departments/budgets to inspire ideas and provide data I had no time (energy) to investigate. Sadly, these articles fully complimented my frail facade buried in a sea of used Kleenex, peering through a broken pair of blue light glasses.

If I wanted dismal…I found it. Search after search yielded bad news for American education. One glaring title read “9 Mostly Pessimistic Education Predictions for 2022-from a Teacher.” Published in The Washington Post by reporter Valerie Strauss, the article referenced active educator Larry Ferlazzo, an author and 19-year teacher at Luther Burbank High School in Sacramento. Larry’s forecast encapsulated all the dark, gloomy, and bitter, commentary that anyone who had stood in a five-foot radius of a school could have offered. Larry’s insights (on which several I agree) combined with my never-ending nasal congestion, sent me into the same spiral many of my teaching colleagues surrendered to this year…until I got to the end.

After an editorial boat ride matching the likes of Willy Wonka, Strauss and Ferlazzo noted a prediction unlike the others, one Ferlazzo said he notes often from a middle school teacher named Bill Ivey. Ivey offered that, “each and every school day will bring tens of thousands of reasons to celebrate in schools across the country.” What was this, I thought? Was this hope I had found? From a teacher? Was this a notion that schools, arguably just as confused as every other agency of humanity the past two years, still stood a chance?  While every sniffling, achy, 24-hour media dependent bone in my body was angling to write an article about self-care (that every teacher in the country would delete as soon as they saw the words “self-care” for the ten thousandth time) I instead, feverishly typed in my search bar…” who is Bill Ivey?”

What I discovered is that Bill Ivey, like my colleague Dr. Amy Anderson, is an educational optimist. To them, every problem has a solution, and the world of “chicken-little-ing” parallels a rocking chair… it gives you something to do, but it does not get you anywhere. Bill is a UMASS-Amherst and Middlebury College graduate who spends his time teaching Humanities and volunteering with his students at the Dakin Humane Society as well as his local foodbank. Amy is a PhD and decades-long math teacher who has helped thousands of students and dedicated a large portion of her career to connecting teachers in the US with teachers in Central America to enhance their pedagogies. Both Bill and Amy have experienced challenges, hardships, loss of fellow faculty and even students. They have endured an international pandemic while working in schools and have had to wrestle with the demands of school administrators, boards, parents, and students. What would make them an anomaly in popular media’s attempt to disregard the persistence and resilience of modern teachers, is that instead of bowing to defeat and perpetuating an exaggerated sense of panic, they choose to work the problem.

My newfound optimism sparked by Bill, (who I must note I have never met in person but found delightful when he granted me permission to use his story) and Amy whose light, airy laugh I can hear (right now actually)… led me down a different digital rabbit whole. My new search led me to: the Brown Center of Education where Michael Hansen is advocating for substitutes and the imperative role they have played throughout the pandemic, Jon Valant who is working diligently to increase access to high-quality pre-K programs for all students, Doug Lemov, author of Teach Like a Champion, who notes that the pandemic gave rise to the need for classrooms that emphasize self-discipline, self-regulation, hard work, and patience, and finally Zoe Darazsdi a teacher and student at Villanova University who is exploring movement-oriented classrooms to improve student learning.

After every major disaster in the past 5 years, I have heard countless news anchors refer to Fred Rogers and his appeal in times of crisis to “look for the helpers.” To my fellow teachers, administrators, and board members I urge you to “look for the Bills and Amys.” Look for the teachers that are not only surviving, but who are managing this unprecedented time with grace and dignity. Look towards the educators who are not willing to bow to the momentary melancholy I slipped into during quarantine, but instead commit to control what they can and let go of what they cannot. Finally, and I cannot emphasize this enough, PRAISE THEM!!! Celebrate them so much that their peers want to rise to that sense of purpose. Mention their names whenever you can. Observe their willingness to stay the course and to lead, so that you too might glean from their practice. The Bills and the Amys, are not Pollyanna’s after all. They fully and wholly realize the challenges faced by schools and teachers in 2022. They are not oblivious the next decade will require unprecedented legislative and educational leadership to redefine schools. Bills and Amys simply decided that the hopeful, probable, and long-term outcomes of these past two years start with preserving and celebrating all that remains great in education, not generating a larger yoke for it to bear.

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