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Letter: Good teaching is important and hard work

Grineski writes, "While working tirelessly to engage students to learn and achieve, teachers also attempt to compensate for the inequities that students live with outside school which cause them to struggle inside school."

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Steve Grineski
Contributed / Steve Grineski
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Good teaching is important and hard work. Any teacher will tell you it begins before students enter their classroom and sometimes never ends. Teachers serve as nurses, psychologists, counselors, social workers, parent educators, recess-lunch-hall monitors, IT technicians, and sometimes surrogate parents. Life in today’s classroom produces ever-changing ‘to do’ lists: from addressing government mandates to meeting students’ varied needs; from developing deep understanding for curriculum and instructional skills to making classrooms safe, engaging places of learning. And of course, COVID-19.

Today’s classrooms are vastly different from those many of us attended. Nation-wide, up to 50% of students are eligible for free or reduced school meals, 14% receive special services, 10% are English language learners, 15% experience mental health disorders, and 1.5 million experience homelessness. Our local workforce teaches students with similar needs: 30% to 35% are eligible for free or reduced meals, 30% to 60% report mental health concerns, with about 600+ students experiencing homelessness. Many students do not complete the school year in the same building they were originally enrolled.

All students are multi-dimensional with varied gifts, talents, and interests. Yet growing numbers are entering classrooms with a wider variety and greater number of needs— the root causes of these needs lie beyond the schoolhouse’s reach. They include poverty, lack of affordable housing, food insecurity, or not enough high-quality early childhood care and education. While working tirelessly to engage students to learn and achieve, teachers also attempt to compensate for the inequities that students live with outside school which cause them to struggle inside school.

Here is a sampling of what local teachers are doing to ease burdens students carry with them. In cooperation with community partners, dental and vision services are offered on-site at some local schools. Elementary teachers use morning meetings to help students build relationships, develop problem-solving skills, and effective communication. In-school closets provide students with necessities, such as hygiene products, bedding, and clothing like the Moorhead School’s Spud Closets. Fargo schools partner with Umoja Writing Workshops to help secondary students develop a sense of belonging, empathy, and expression. West Fargo, Fargo, and Moorhead schools are partnering with Great Plains Food Bank, United Way, and Door Dash, to distribute repacked meals through each schools’ host food pantry. These districts employ staff devoted to removing transportation, clothing, food, and hygiene barriers so students who experience homelessness can become successful learners.

Recently, a new graduate asked, “Why do people do this for me?” Then he said, “When I am on my feet, I should do this for someone else.”

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North Dakota and Minnesota students spend 6.5 hours/day inside school. This leaves about 17.5 hours/day outside school or almost three times as much. Legislative initiatives are the real way to put an end to the burdens students carry into classrooms. Teachers are doing ‘hero-work’ in trying to ease the outside school burdens on students. But they cannot solve problems like food and housing insecurities, which impact inside school learning and achieving. Good teaching is important and hard work.

Steve Grineski taught in the Apple Valley and Maple Grove school districts for 10 years, before joining the teacher education faculty at Minnesota State University for 31 years. He retired in 2015. For the past five years he worked with families at Churches United for the Homeless.

This letter does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Forum's editorial board nor Forum ownership.

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