From the Jefferson City News-Tribune

WHILE WE’VE rightfully praised our health care workers during the pandemic, we’ve sometimes taken for granted another segment of front-line workers: teachers.

They, too, are risking the health of themselves and their families to accomplish a task we as a society haven’t always valued enough: educating our children. This year, they’ve done it amid routine handwashing, increased cleaning, temperature checks, masks and trying to social distance children, which is likely akin to herding cats.

We need to show appreciation for our teachers because it is right but also for a practical matter: We need to keep them.

Studies show students don’t learn as well through distance learning as they do through in-person classes.

But keeping schools open requires keeping teachers, and that hasn’t been easy during the pandemic.

Jefferson City School District’s middle and high schools switched to distance learning Nov. 16 due to a staffing shortage. They’ve since returned to in-person classes. Some other schools have gone to distance learning at times this year.

Beyond showing our appreciation to teachers, what do we need to do to convince them to continue accepting the increased risk of getting COVID-19 and possibly bringing it home to their own families?

The Blair Oaks R-2 School District is on the right track. Its Board of Education approved a substitute pay increase from $75 to $80 a day in August. Now, it has voted to pay substitute teachers $80 for the first 10 days they work and $85 every day after.

Superintendent Jim Jones recommended a pay raise as a thank you to substitute teachers who are willing to work as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.

“This is a token of appreciation,” Jones said. “This says, ‘Thank you for your commitment to our kids.‘”

Granted, it’s perhaps more of a symbolic gesture than anything. Ultimately, like at all schools, the law of supply and demand will determine whether it’s enough.

But other schools should take a cue from Blair Oaks. To make teachers and substitutes (who often are subbing for teachers who are sick) feel safe and valued, schools need to keep up their safety protocols, but they also need to make it financially worth teachers’ while.

Another way to keep our teachers is to prioritize them among the first to receive access to the vaccine, along with health care workers. We support members of Congress who are making such a push.

They, like health care workers, are front-line workers who are putting them and their loved ones at risk.

To put our children and their education first, we need to also put our teachers first. We ask area schools to do what’s needed to accomplish this.

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