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Baltimore Teachers and Their Response to COVID-19 – Kyair Butts, Waverly Elementary/Middle School

The Fund asked a group of City Schools’ educators to share their experience of teaching during this time of school closures due to the COVID-19 crisis. In our first blog post of this series, Kyair Butts, 2019 Baltimore City Schools Teacher of the Year, discusses how his students’ resilience and colleagues’ perseverance have kept him inspired as an educator:

“That which we persist in doing becomes easier to do, not that the nature of the thing has changed, but that our power to do has increased.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson.

I open with this quote because it goes to show that in devastating times, our dedication defines us. We all were surprised by this global pandemic and yes we all want answers but a potent motivator for me remains how committed my kids are to learning by showing up faithfully for live lessons, deeply engaging with material and thoughtfully reflecting on our social emotional wellbeing. When we persist in passion, virtual teaching might not be easier but our inner resolve becomes steeled with the dreams of our kids and my kids. Baltimore’s youth… well they’re just the best.

If someone described to you an individual taking care of relatives, preparing meals, completing daily work and attending to needs outside of their own you would most likely think I was describing an adult, but this is the situation for many of my kids. The persistent truth amid this crisis is the courage with which Baltimore’s youth continually engage, embrace and elevate each other and adults… that is truly inspiring. In the last three weeks, I have averaged 30-35 students joining my live lessons. My students not only elevate my spirits, but they elevate my practice because they are hungry for knowledge. Their appetite for greatness compels me to see our challenges as opportunities. I could complain about the platform (and I have), I could complain about this or that (I have), but I have always been grateful for another day to be a teacher, greet my kids and engage in learning that is both meaningful and moment-defining.

This crisis has exposed a persistent truth that we have known but haven’t figured out how to address and that is education in a “business as usual” format shows complicity to oppression that we all should be ashamed of witnessing. This moment could be the beginnings of a movement if we had the same courage our kids had. While I am continually inspired by Baltimore youth, I am perplexed by a system that is begging for change. Our commitment to fundamental and universal change has to begin in this moment. Free and Appropriate Public Education now means wireless connectivity, technology access, material access and so much more that brick and mortar largely hid to some degree. If ever education needed a moment to crescendo into a movement, our time is now. A persistent truth is that this will be difficult because of how the system was designed, but in our persistence, our power to produce anew becomes easier.

As I reflect on this process, I am proud to be a Baltimore City Schools teacher because scores of my colleagues have engaged in serious conversations of equity, educational excellence and adapted “whatever it takes” mindsets as we march together into a darkness where we know light might be hard to come by but it will be light. This is the foundation upon which I claim and define my faith (going forth into the unknown knowing there will be greater ahead). My colleagues around the city are using every available tool, platform, medium, device and strategy to teach. In ordinary times, the darkness or unknown should scare us all, but this expansion of great teachers shining their lights has only made the path forward more possible and less scary because of their leadership. While there is much work to be done, I don’t worry about the work getting harder because our persistence only increases our power to do the work.

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