Heroes without scrubs: Cheer teachers; they are key workers too!

It seems increasingly likely that periods in crisis mode will be our “new normal.” Coronavirus cases are at a record high in Israel, and they are rising again in parts of Europe, the USA and some other parts of the world.

And if we’re in for a marathon, not a sprint, we need to think carefully about who we look up to to get us through this, not only healthy, but also happy, inspired and fulfilled.

Today, we all love key workers. The coronavirus crisis has given us a newfound appreciation for them.

We’ve stood outside our doors cheering for medical workers, left notes on our trash cans lauding our refuse collectors, and we’ve showered supermarket delivery folks with thanks.

But there’s one group that hasn’t received nearly enough attention: teachers.

People think that teaching online is easy. And in countries where they have returned to school, you hear snarky comments noting that schools only just reopened and teachers are “already on summer vacation.”

It’s time that teachers everywhere received the respect they deserve. They are classed, in many countries, as key workers, and should be shown the appreciation that goes with this status.

Appreciation for their flexibility and creativity in teaching online lessons — an exhausting experience — often while juggling their own kids. And knowing that students can always enter another screen and play games during lessons, they are always in competition with online entertainment.

And appreciation for those who have been teaching in schools, whether throughout the crisis for children of other key workers, or recently as part of a return to routine. They have played a central role in helping children adjust to the changing realities of these challenging times.

Perhaps one reason that we don’t stop and show proper appreciation to teachers is that many parents have been caught up in the practical reality of having kids off school. The pressures of their constant presence at home, cooking, feeding them, and so on.

But in this atmosphere we’ve lost the bigger picture, of how teachers are the ones to give hope, inspiration, meaning, purpose and direction to our young people. And they are doing it, whether online or in person.

What’s more, if you have been impressed by your children’s emotional resources and ability to adapt during the roller-coaster of the pandemic, give their teachers some credit. It’s easy to forget the extent to which teachers prepare them for the twists and turns of life.

Jewish tradition prescribes great reverence for teachers. In ancient times, the whole nation supported the Cohanim and the Leviim because of their educational and leadership role in the community. The greatest Jewish leader of all time Moses, is known as “Moshe Rabeinu”, our teacher  because of his critical role in educating the people.

It’s always been our teachers and thinkers who have helped us to get through times of physical upheaval, from the Prophets and Sages who supported us through the destruction of the First and Second Temples respectively, to modern-day educators and thought leaders who inspire us through hard times.

We’ve all seen the comedy clips on social media caricaturing life under lockdown as an endless string of naps, snacks and mealtimes, followed by more sleep. In short, when we’re in crisis mode, we connect just to the physical, it is implied.

We tell each other that everything is okay “so long as we have our health.” But life is more than people who live to fight another day.

In Jewish thought, we’re always living for something. This has always been a central value internally, and one of our messages to the world. We toast one another with the blessing “Le’chaim” To Life! We’re not merely toasting the crossing of dates off the calendar. We aspire to a life filled with blessing; a life of purpose, a life of meaning; a life of direction.

What is the purpose, the meaning, the fulfillment of our children’s lives? It’s educators who empower our young people to explore this. And when we honor them, we embrace the idea that, even in times of physical crisis, we’re not reduced to being purely physical beings.

In these odd times, we can be thankful to our tradition for its emphasis on education. It’s the reason why, to us, the idea of parents becoming “home-school teachers” during lockdown wasn’t so alien. We say Shema daily with our children, reading the lines about educating them “when you sit in your house and when you walk on the road, when you lie down and when you rise.” The parent-teacher combo, with mothers and fathers teaching through the immersive reality of life, is second nature to us. For many it has thrived during these times.

But we also have special regard for those who dedicate their professional lives to the critical calling of education. And so, as the world honors “key workers,” our voice should be reminding people to shout out for those amongst us who may not be running our hospitals or clinics, but who are ensuring that, as we look forward to a post-pandemic future, it’ll be the future with the values and the aspirations that we want.

About the Author
Rabbi Naftali Schiff is the Founder and CEO of Jewish Futures, a diverse family of non-profit educational organisations each addressing a specific need and niche. These include JRoots, GIFT, Aish UK, Chazak, Chazon, Shelanu, Ta’am, Time4Torah, Legacy Live, Aleinu, and the Forum for Jewish Leadership. Jewish Futures is committed to creating and implementing far reaching solutions that will realise the vision of a brighter Jewish future. Naftali studied Economics and International Relations at the London School of Economics, received Rabbinic ordination from the Israel and Jerusalem Rabbinate and Diploma of Education from Israel Ministry of Education. He served in the IDF Givati Infantry unit and is a founding board member of Loving World and a number of philanthropic foundations.
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