SAINT PAUL, Minn. -- At J.J. Hill Montessori School in Saint Paul, Minnesota, John Horton has been nominated for Minnesota Teacher of the Year.
“Last spring in Minnesota it was a really challenging period for kids because of the things that were taking place with school and without in their own community," said Horton, who teachers first to third grade. "So, as a teacher, our job really...people think it’s for academics and to teach lessons. But honestly, it’s about building relationships and supporting them.”
Video inside the classroom was given to us by John Horton and Saint Paul Public Schools since no visitors are currently allowed inside the school. Horton says his support for students is why a family nominated him for Minnesota Teacher of the Year.
“They felt I saw their child for the first time for who he is,” Horton said.
During Teacher Appreciation Week, he says it’s important to recognize all teachers.
“If there was ever a year to send teachers more than love letters, it’s this year,” said Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, a teachers union with 1.7 million members.
Weingarten says there’s no question students have fallen behind with so many disruptions during the school year.
“Of course, for some kids, they’re not going to be at the same exact place as they would have been if we didn’t have COVID," Weingarten said. "So, next year is going to be a year of academic recovery, of emotional recovery of social recovery. The social isolation is probably as devastating as anything else.”
Horton says many teachers have felt defeated this past year as if they could never do enough to help their students.
“I think a lot of families understand teachers we’re working long hours," Horton said. "My colleagues here at J.J. Hill were starting their work around 6 (a.m.) and working until about 8 p.m. most days. Often, they would put in half a day or a full day on the weekend.”
As more students return to the classroom, Horton says he’ll be focusing less on measuring the academic success of students.
“I told the children we’re going to work on community. We’re going to work on friendship, and we’re going to work on taking care of ourselves and we’ll see how it goes," Horton said.
Both Horton and Weingarten say what’s most important is that kids feel safe when they return back to school.
“I really think we need to work on supporting children and their mental health," Horton said. "This has been a really traumatic few years for children and families. I think we need to find ways to support kids, and that may be reinventing school. We could introduce more community schools. We could find ways to have teachers connect with families, and we also need to think about making sure every family is radically welcomed in school.”