Mijares: OC teachers are modeling the traits we hope to instill in students

This is not what most teachers had in mind when they earned their teaching credentials.

Many surely imagined planning lessons, decorating classrooms and leading meaningful dialogs with their students. Some may have envisioned using the latest technologies to engage young learners and promote equity.

But as we know, the world shifted on its axis this year. By March, school districts in Orange County and throughout the state were taking the unprecedented steps of suspending in-person classes and pivoting to distance learning models in real-time.

An image of Orange County Superintendent Al MijaresHow did our teachers respond? The same way they always do — by figuring out how to best serve and support students.

Many quickly familiarized themselves with teleconferencing platforms and curated online resources to maintain academic continuity. Others printed out materials and had them ready to send home. That was just the beginning.

In the weeks since our campuses closed to students, teachers across the county have taken up the challenge of ensuring this isn’t a lost semester — but rather an opportunity to provide meaningful distance learning and, in some cases, service to their communities.

One middle school in Costa Mesa organized a teleconference that enabled eighth-graders to interview war veterans. A pair of teachers from Vista View Middle School in the Ocean View School District helped students send cards and cookies to healthcare workers. Others have led efforts to make personal protective equipment for first-responders.

These kinds of stories abound. But make no mistake, not a second of this has been easy.

I liken this moment to transforming a high-speed train into a supersonic jet while it’s in motion and carrying passengers. Teachers in every district have logged their share of trials and errors, and it’s become evident that the best practices from one school or class don’t always translate to another. For example, if you have 28 students with high-speed internet access at home and two students who do not, how do you begin to ensure equity?

Meanwhile, many of our teachers are also parents, meaning they’re taking care of their own children while doing their regular jobs.

This week, May 4-8, happens to be National Teacher Appreciation Week, and though social distancing measures necessitate more muted observances, I want to take this opportunity to express my deepest gratitude to the 20,000-plus educators in Orange County. Drawn to their profession by a common calling, these molders of dreams are using every resource at their disposal to connect with students, provide academic stability, maintain equity and offer emotional support during the worst public health crisis of our lives.

In doing so, our teachers are modeling the traits that we hope to instill in our students, specifically grit, adaptability and resilience in the face of adversity.

There is no shortage of heroes in this pandemic, including healthcare professionals, emergency personnel, law enforcement, restaurant take-out employees, grocery workers and others performing essential services.

Our teachers are also playing a vital role. While temporarily distanced from their students, they remain hard at work guiding the next generation of policymakers, scientific experts and leaders who may be key to preventing humanity’s next crisis.