Worlds of Education

Thematic Series:

World Teachers Day

#WorldTeachersDay | Lessons from the Pandemic: “Embracing our Humanity”, by Felisa Tibbitts.

published 3 October 2020 updated 6 October 2020
written by:

A common thread connecting educators and learners worldwide during this pandemic is a shared humanity. Teachers, administrators, students, and their families on short notice have had to respond to the demands placed on schooling when schools closed. Those closing doors required educators to reimagine classroom teaching, this is certainly true. Equally, teachers became reacquainted with their own vulnerability and those of their students.

Teachers can attest firsthand to what the pandemic has required of them. I reached out to several educators I know to get their views on what the pandemic has meant for their teaching and what we can learn from these experiences.

Several US educators pointed out that the pandemic magnified the inequalities already evident in schools and the vulnerabilities of certain students.

Michael Porter, a Florida teacher, says “This pandemic has forced us to begin to understand just how important the American public classroom is to the most vulnerable of America’s students.”  Milton Reynolds, from California, cautions that “As the asymmetrical consequences of the COVID 19 pandemic have made clear, the patterns of categorical devaluation that have marked our past are still very much with us today.” John (Jake) Garrels, a Massachusetts teacher, observed “Like most crises, the Coronavirus has exposed another chronic affliction that has plagued America from its inception: inequality. Affluent districts, though not unaffected, have weathered the storm with superior technological and human resources, but less fortunate regions have struggled and have lost the precious ground they have gained only recently.”

Jake Garrels went on to point out that the distance learning environment has had a disproportionately negative impact on his students with special needs “who have relied heavily upon one-on-on services and who are poorly served by remote learning. Compounding this problem is the fact that these students typically come from schools whose classrooms are overcrowded, making attempts at social distancing nearly impossible.

Many educators have discovered their powerful voice in advocating for the safety and well-being of their students and for themselves. Most of the teachers who responded to my invitation to contribute to this EI forum, referred to ways that they had discovered new inner resources and strategies for working with learners.

Miles Rinehart, a special needs teacher in New York, says: “As a teacher, I always look to building their knowledge bases in whatever ways I can and support their learning, but the greater in these times for me and many of colleagues is to provide a place for our students, be it remote or an actual building, where they feel safe and cared for in order for them to meet those academic aspirations.”

Jake Garrels, who teaches incarcerated youth in the juvenile justice system of Massachusetts, expressed how he has worked through the conditions brought on by the pandemic: “Well ahead of the rest of the nation, the Department of Youth Services has invested heavily in Chromebook technology and has encouraged the use of applications like Google Classroom. Since my teaching has long been focused on independent, student-driven projects, this new emphasis played to our strengths.” He also notes that problems remain as “More than a third of our students have Individualized Educational Plans (IEPs) and experience difficulty staying on task without the individual coaching that can never be duplicated remotely.”

The experience of learning is a deeply human one, we know, built upon the foundational relationship between educator and learner. In Europe, where some students are now physically back in school, my teacher friends have lauded the importance of this human connection, newly rediscovered. Filip Car in Croatia says “I believe that this time and the current situation have demonstrated how important in fact the human element is in education and how that element has been in many ways neglected.” John Crane, an educator in the Czech Republic says that being back in the classroom “only reaffirmed that the most important part of education is the relationships that are formed in the classroom…Human interaction is complex, and limiting our children to digital relationships online is no solution to educating the whole child.”

As a human rights educator and activist, I would like to believe that the importance of teachers has been elevated to the eyes of the public. I also see a stronger voice than ever emerging from teachers and their unions. What next? Perhaps more respect for teachers, administrators and the work that they do? As Michal Porter from Florida argues: “America’s educators are resilient and so too are its students.  Many educators, while obviously extremely troubled by the continued lack of respect for all that they do, are flourishing and creating a new synergy constructed by their commitment to understand the resources available, and how best to utilize them rapidly, and efficiently.  I feel passionately that education, like many forces in the world, is having a renaissance and redefining itself and the important role it will always have in society.”

And perhaps a common goal shared by many is a renewed commitment to addressing the inequalities in our societies that show up so evidently in our schooling systems.  Milton Reynolds, a California educator, calls for a coming to terms with racism in the U.S. and the role of education in disrupting this. “As educators, we must become students of the past and set as a goal transcendence of the cognitively stultifying and dignity diminishing consequences of the colorblind conditioning we have been subjected to for too long. This will require sustained efforts, driven by purpose, courage and clarity, of engagement with the histories of differential racialization and identification that undergird the patterns of human wastage that make an inclusive and generative future elusive.”

As I mentioned at the outset of this piece, a common thread connecting educators and learners worldwide during this pandemic is a shared humanity. This applies to the classroom setting as well as to the global family of educators that Education International represents. On World Teacher’s Day, let’s embrace the human dimension of schooling in the context of the human right to education – for all. And let’s encourage ourselves and our leaders to take another long hard look at the painful inequities that the pandemic has revealed, and do even more for our children, all children. They deserve this.


On 5 October, Education International marks World Teachers’ Day with a 24-hour virtual broadcast spanning the globe. Teachers everywhere will come together to share what they have learned as a profession and how we can ensure inclusive equitable quality education for all moving forward.

The full programme, featuring teachers from across the globe, as well as Presidents, Prime Ministers, Ministers of Education, heads of international organisations, famous journalists and scientists, a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, and many more, is available at >www.5oct.org/programme/>.<>

The event will be livestreamed across all Education International platforms and you can register here.

All streaming links will be available on the day at >www.5oct.org/watch/>, with interpretation to English, French, Spanish, Arabic, Portuguese, Russian and Japanese.<>

Join the global conversation on October 5!

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect any official policies or positions of Education International.