Williams Elementary in-person classes TEACHER (copy)

Kindergarten teacher Kim McNeil finalizes the bus list for her students in her classroom at Williams Elementary School in Pittsfield

It’s Teacher Appreciation Week, and if there were ever a period that displayed just how much our communities’ educators should be appreciated, it is the COVID era.

The coronavirus pandemic, as well as the protracted and shifting strictures to contain it, made many parts of daily life much harder over the past year — education chief among them. It’s been hard on students and on parents, but the burden of maintaining a space for our youths’ learning and development fell on our communities’ teachers. Curricula had to be reimagined on the fly. The familiar bonds of in-person learning were severed. Reaching every kid regardless of their quirks and challenges — the ethic of all great teachers — was made exponentially more difficult. And the difficulty compounded for those educators who are also parents of school-age children.

Yet, teachers persevered. It was a tough school year — and then some — for everyone. But the fact that we even had a school year amid an unprecedented global health crisis is thanks first and foremost to these frontline warriors in the battle for our kids’ future. And while the coronavirus looks to be waning in the U.S., that battle will continue for America’s teachers. Children who lost a year-plus of normal scholastic development don’t immediately get it back by simply returning to in-person learning, and the deleterious effects will be disproportionately borne by vulnerable students. To so many kids, teachers are lifelines. They instruct and educate, but they also see youths’ struggles when others can’t; they give hope in the face of adversity and look out for their pupils’ well-being beyond the grade book. That teachers ensured this life-giving work went on amid a pandemic is particularly worthy of appreciation this year.

Teachers are our children’s champions and the overseers of the world of tomorrow. They deserve our utmost thanks and support — this week or any other. Massachusetts native Christa McAuliffe, an astronaut and a social studies instructor, once said, “I touch the future — I teach.” COVID-19 has brought unimaginable tribulation to our present, but fortunately our children’s champions never gave up on fostering their future one class at a time. Thank a teacher this week, and let them know we recognize that they have gone above and beyond to meet the challenges of the past year.