Teachers do the extraordinary in normal times. Today, teachers and school staff are accomplishing herculean efforts to ensure their students are safe, nurtured and learning amidst a global pandemic—while also caring for their own families.

Almost overnight, educators and school staff transitioned to distance learning, not for a few days, but for the foreseeable future. They also had to provide a way to get food and support to our most vulnerable children.

This year, Teacher Appreciation Week (May 4 to 8) comes at a time when parents and communities in the Midcoast region and across the country have a new appreciation for our public schools and our hardworking teachers and school staff. What happens in our classrooms is about so much more than the lesson plan for the day. It’s about building relationships and critical thinking and social skills, including learning how to socialize, handle conflict well and become good citizens. For many students, public school is the only place they can count on for a reliable meal, or to feel safe and cared for. It’s teachers and school staff who are there to provide social, health and emotional support for their students in addition to the knowledge kids need to succeed.

I was one of those kids from a home environment that was unsafe and unstable. Public school was my lifeline and the teachers and school staff my salvation. My fifth grade teacher who spent recess and after school tutoring me on my multiplication tables because the town I moved from hadn’t even started those lessons. She also knew the signs of abuse well enough to intervene with family services. There were also the lunch ladies who quickly memorized the free lunch kids and just nodded at the register to spare us any shame. I remember the music director who left his classroom open from sun up to well past sunset so we had a safe place to be and the school social worker who let me hang out in her office on days when things were really bad at home, as well as the countless teachers who instilled in me a deep love of learning, who honed my writing skills and gave me the confidence to know that I could not just survive, but truly succeed and have a bright future. My public schools and my teachers made me who I am today and for that I am eternally grateful.

Teachers deserve our appreciation not just for a week or during a global pandemic, but every day, by respecting them as professionals, trusting them to do their jobs, and investing in what they need to meet their students’ needs. Unfortunately, this crisis means our children will be returning to school in the fall with even greater needs and we need to be doing everything we can to make sure our children are safe, healthy and able to learn, and that teachers and school staff are safe, healthy and supported as well.

Working for a national public education organization, I’ve had the privilege of experiencing firsthand countless examples of thriving public schools. What these schools have in common is a deep respect and value for the experience and voice of teachers and school staff, and a powerful bond between the schools and the greater community. Strong public schools create strong communities and it’s our talented teachers and school staff who power those strong public schools. Fortunately, there is tremendous pride and community support for our local public schools and together we will weather this storm.

On this Teacher Appreciation Week, we salute all the amazing teachers and school staff for the work they do in making a profound difference in the lives our children. We thank you for going above and beyond during this crisis. And we look forward to being able to have everyone reunited in their classrooms as soon as it is safe to do so.

Marcus Mrowka lives in Camden and is a candidate for school board.