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Candidate's View: Pandemic has been particularly hard on students

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Cynthia Gail
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Have the unions in Minnesota really supported the teachers when it comes to equitable pay? Unemployment and beginning salaries? What gender are the majority of teachers?

What gender are the majority of politicians? At present, I am just speaking for Minnesotans. It may very well be the same in other states.

Art is one area that has been attacked for years. I have heard, “You know you are just an elective.” So we get every difficult child. And we see many students, often a load much higher than others. We go through several students and grade levels per year.

In the arts, we try not to complain because we know how important it is for our students to have a creative outlet.

The pandemic is extremely hard on students, emotionally. During the pandemic, as an art teacher, I planned each week ahead of time. I did videos and drawing aids. I tried to make drawing aids to the lowest level possible for student comprehension and student outcomes. I graded on merit and project outcomes. I watched for parent and student interaction on emails, which can take hours to respond with proper solutions. Every week I was developing the next week’s lesson while facilitating the present lessons. I made many adaptations, as needed for student success. I called parents to get packages when students got behind. When I saw which students were not checking in, I made home packets and even more drawing aids. The hardest thing was to see and hear from students that they did not have supplies. I did face-to-face with my students once a week. When I saw their face and the honesty in the conversation, that hurt: a feeling of pain I cannot explain. I could not afford to buy supplies for the ones who needed them. My paycheck does not stretch that far. I felt hopeless. About mid-quarter, I could see who was not going to make it. On overload, I pushed myself harder and made up extra packets for those students who were not checking in.

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On the Saturday before Mother’s Day, I had been working on designing extra lessons for three weeks. I had felt an urgency, so I pushed myself harder. By 10 p.m., I was ready to deliver. On Mother’s Day I went to 23 homes of my students. Six hours later I returned home, frustrated and tired. I needed a break. I needed to take care of me before Monday when the routine would start all over.

On my way home, all I could do was be grateful to those amazing bus drivers and our school systems, paras, cooks, custodians, teachers, and administrators. I was so glad to be a part of such an amazing team. Whoever designed the structure for our school systems did an amazing job.

I have been a part of over five different school districts in Minnesota and each district has been truly wonderful. The dedication I have seen over the years and the shared responsibilities: what dedication.

Many art teachers think in the gestalt. That is an organized whole that is perceived as more than the sum of its parts.

I have had the privilege to work with thousands of the most wonderful students you could ever imagine. I have laughed with them, cried with and for them, and experienced some of their best moments with them. I have watched them overcome fear, and, yes, I have been the object of their scorn. The love I have received from students is the most precious gift a person could ever have. And nobody and nothing can ever take that gift from me. No one can take the memories from the corner of my mind.

Cynthia Gail of Albert Lea, Minnesota, is a Republican candidate for U.S. Senate in the Aug. 11 primary. There are five Republican and five Democrat candidates for the seat currently held by U.S. Sen. Tina Smith. They were all invited by the News Tribune Opinion page to submit a commentary. Their “Candidate’s View” columns are being published this month.

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