Our kids’ teachers matter. They are important, they are talented, and they are committed to students.

We always knew it, and yet, the last month and a half since school buildings were closed across Michigan, we’ve realized we never knew the half of it.

This week, families and educators observe National Teacher Appreciation Week. Each year students bring handmade “thank you” cards to class, parents send a gift card to the local coffee shop, and administrators celebrate during overhead announcements. Now Zoom meetings and parent portals replace the classroom, our kids miss their teachers, and parents try to meet their educational needs while juggling work and home responsibilities.

Parents are blessed by the many talented teachers who dedicate their lives to meeting the needs of our children. We’re fortunate many chose the profession, and we’re impressed during this crisis at how many are innovating, finding new approaches to keep kids learning.

Those talents and innovations stand out in bright colors in today’s climate — where typical central-office barriers to new approaches are removed, and we rely more on teachers, not school bureaucracies.

Allison Gleiss teaches high school students statistics, geometry, algebra II and more at Lake Michigan Catholic Schools in St. Joseph. A building closure hasn’t stopped her from connecting with students and bringing current events into the lesson plan.

High school seniors in Gleiss’s statistics class crunched the numbers around the coronavirus, performing statistical analysis of the data and the health pandemic, then applied their knowledge about distribution curves through class discussion.

The approach doesn’t just speak to creative teaching and distance learning, but helps graduating seniors make better sense of the uncertain world they’ll enter this fall.

Nicole Oliver is an elementary school teacher at Michigan International Prep School, a public charter school headquartered in the Lansing area but educating students online across the state.

While school buildings closed to combat the spread of COVID-19, teachers like Oliver use technology daily to connect one-on-one with students, with larger classrooms and younger students, sharing and developing a love of learning with virtual story times. She provides the constant, the role model and the passion for education.

At Woodland Park Academy, a public charter school in Grand Blanc, school leader Jeremy Brown and teachers hold office hours — Monday through Friday — via Zoom. They connect with students and parents, provide educational supports and direction for students working through the school’s continuity of learning plan. They also help parents navigate challenges and opportunities of learning at home. The meetings become a one-stop shop for parents, combining daily access to teachers as well as the school superintendent, curriculum chairs and the PTO president.

The list goes on. Teachers tailor lesson plans for at-home learning, reach students regularly over the phone and web and explore new technologies that engage young learners in innovative, creative and effective ways.

Instead of making decisions based on what’s best for the public school bureaucracy, teachers give students the opportunities to succeed in this generation’s toughest conditions.

Their students are better off for innovative teachers’ passion and care, and parents? We appreciate them more than ever.

About the author: Beth DeShone is the executive director of Great Lakes Education Project.

About the author: By Beth DeShone is the executive director of Great Lakes Education Project.

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