‘We all have to be in this together’: A tale of two Denver educators on Teacher Appreciation Day

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DENVER (KDVR) — It’s been said for years that teachers are underappreciated, and perhaps that’s never been more true than after a year spent in a pandemic.

Tuesday is Teacher Appreciation Day. Here is a tale of two educators: one new to the profession and one veteran.

“It’s definitely been a challenging year. Mostly because of so many of the unknowns,” said fifth-grade teacher Gracen Porreca.

“Like I was the passenger and someone else was driving the car,” said fifth-grade teacher Gabi Lucero.

“We were back in person, but then we had a little bit of an outbreak, so we had to go back to online. I got COVID, so actually I had to stay home, but then I was actually teaching from home while the kids were at school,” said Porreca.

Porreca and Lucero are both fifth-grade teachers at north Denver’s Edison Elementary. Porreca has taught for 20 years, and Lucero is in her second year of teaching.

“Quite a challenge. Probably more challenging than my first year teaching,” Porreca said.

Years of experience didn’t seem to matter this year.

Porreca says in the face of a new frontier, all teachers were put on the same playing field.

“Everyone’s almost a newbie, everyone’s got to figure this out, we all have to be in this together, we all have to help each other out. What can we do to make sure we’re doing our absolute best for our kids?” Porreca said.

“As a second-year teacher, I just barely got my footing last year, and then, this year it was like oh, just kidding, here’s a curveball!” Lucero said.

It was a curveball where these two had no choice but to swing.

“I feel like I kind of leveled up. Like I’m on the next level, I’ll be okay,” Lucero said.

Lucero says despite the odds, she noticed with each day, her kids grew resilient. She says they rose to the level of now, her partner in their quest to learn.

“Even now, they are better at advocating and saying, ‘I need help with this.’ Speaking up for themselves,” Lucero said.  “It’s really helped build their confidence in themselves and being able to talk for themselves.”

Confidence, in large part, built by the hands of teachers who chose to focus on the social emotional side of raising kids.

“I felt like I was trying to be a constant cheerleader for these guys, ‘You guys are amazing, I can’t believe you guys are doing what you’re doing, I don’t know if I would be able to do what you guys are doing in 5th grade’,” Lucero said.

Sometimes kids have a way of saying it best — they don’t hesitate to write from the heart. Like this 10-year-old girl’s letter to Lucero:

“She encourages me…to not doubt myself…and if I get it wrong, it’s alright, you can try again…and she’s really, really…(and then another 11 reallys)…the best teacher.”

The teachers also say how appreciative they were to have adaptable and understanding parents by their side. They say despite what many may think, they felt they became closer with parents because they were forced to communicate more, especially during at-home learning.

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