The ongoing uncontrolled pandemic is affecting our nation in profound ways.

I see an increase of cultural depression and anxiety. I call it such because it is like a kind of “flu” affecting so many in our society.

There are always folks who suffer from depression and anxiety. I have come to ask clients when their depression started: Was it pre-pandemic or pandemic related? That is a feature of our time.

If depression has been treated or diagnosed before the pandemic, then the pandemic may have made the depression or anxiety worse, which could call for a medication adjustment.

There is something else that has been hobbled by the ongoing pandemic and that is education.

The Austin American Statesman reported on Nov. 13 that around 41% of Austin Independent School District students were not passing at least one of their classes during the first grading period.

I am sure communities around the country are experiencing similar numbers because our whole process of primary and secondary education has been thrown into a flux, which is not fully addressed by online classes.

So, I think it is time to realize something that has always been there in plain sight.

The American experience has succeeded because free education has largely been at the heart of our democratic principles.

We have believed that a free nation needs an informed population, so public education has been a consistent, vital component of that informed population.

Who makes that work? Teachers! Women and men who have trained and educated themselves in the basic disciplines they aspire to teach.

However, what we are seeing right now is that teachers and administrators do far more than just hand out information, guide discussions, give tests and maintain discipline in class and on the campus.

Teachers make a personal connection with their students and such a connection changes lives.

The work of teaching has become so much more challenging when students do not have stable homes or suffer from food insufficiency. The incredible work of teaching has become more challenging, but still we manage to have enough teachers to get the job done.

I don’t remember every teacher in whose class I sat, but I remember those who were awesome and inspiring, those who challenged me to grow and learn. They made learning important and fun.

Our teachers infuse the day with their passion, their knowledge, their commitment to show up and put up and challenge each student to rise above what they know.

They challenge children with little support to dream and reach for those dreams. They communication compassion, insight and understanding. They instill discipline and award effort.

And all this happens in a fluid community of children who are growing up right before their eyes. They are learning how to play with others, treat others, work with others and look beyond their own self-interest, caring about their classroom neighbors and others in their grade.

I will always remember the sex offender who was in a small pilot group I worked with who told me there was no one in his life that really cared about him. Frankly, that broke my heart.

His mother was a prostitute, she pimped him out when he was 5. He never knew his father.

Then, a few minutes later, he corrected himself and declared, “Wait there was someone who cared for me – there was this teacher!”

This anecdote further reveals the vital role that teachers play in the overall well-being of our nation’s children.

We need to allow this time to cause our appreciation to rise and stop taking them for granted. We need to find ways to support them in their work and encourage them as day by day they strive to teach, care, challenge, motivate and keep our children safe.

1 Timothy 5:18 reports, “For Scripture says, ‘Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain,’ and ‘the worker deserves his wages.’”

Churches know this passage but largely ignore it. However, this is also true for our teachers.

If we were to fully fund schools by paying teachers and administrators what they are worth and according to how they contribute to the state and our economy, we would strive to not take the cheap road but the road that pays “what the teacher’s efforts deserve.”

This would attract and retain the best teachers, allowing them to focus on educating and inspiring the future leaders of our nation without getting discouraged by the struggle to feed their families and pay their bills.

If this pandemic teaches us anything, it should help us better understand the place that public school education plays in the mental and emotional health of our children, as well as the education they receive.

Every teacher needs a hug, a giant “thank you” and a raise.

Wash your hands, wear your mask for others, mind the gap and be truthful but kind.

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