I am often approached by people who tell me that they would not want my job because they believe I have one of the toughest jobs in education. Personally, I don’t think that’s true. I work with a lot of great people who make my job enjoyable and meaningful and far less difficult than it might ordinarily be.

When I think of difficult jobs in education, I often think about the huge challenges faced by teachers, paraprofessionals and those who support students such as school counselors, social workers, and nurses. I also admire our bus drivers and district transportation staff who do amazing work every day.

But, over this difficult year of teaching and learning during the COVID-19 pandemic, I think those with the toughest jobs are students themselves. When I look back at when I was in school, I had it pretty easy compared to today’s students. Not only is life, in general, much more complicated and “busy” for today’s young generation, but the added stressors of a pandemic have taken a toll in many ways on students.

I recently spoke to a group of ninth-graders at a Students First virtual meeting. During that meeting, I shared my thoughts that being a student during the pandemic has had to be really difficult. I praised the students for “hanging in there” and told them that they should be very proud that they have done so well during the most difficult year of education that I can remember.

“You have persevered,” I told them, “and you have hung in there, and now your ninth-grade year is almost over. If you could make it through this year, I KNOW you’ll make it through to 12th grade, and I encourage you to keep doing your best and to get better at your job.”

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During my career, I often reminded students that their “job” was being a student. Whenever my students let their part-time jobs get in the way of their school work, I would remind them that they already had a full-time job -- being a student. Students would often respond with a comment about how being a student was not a “paying job,” to which I would respond that being a student was, indeed, a paying job that paid many times over in dividends that would multiply into the future.

While many students failed to recognize that being a student was a full-time job, a good number did come to realize that the compensation for being a dedicated, punctual and hard-working student paid off not only with good grades, but with leadership opportunities, scholarships, letters of recommendation, acceptance to colleges, tech schools, or the military and ultimately paid off with excellent career opportunities.

This year, being a dedicated and hard-working student was much more difficult when students could not be in school every day and were required to learn remotely all or part of the time. But, for the many students who stuck it out and who persevered, the learning they gained went way beyond the traditional three “R’s," (reading, writing and 'rithmetic).

Just like anyone who pulls through a crisis, those students who never gave up during the pandemic learned more about themselves than they ever had before. Students learned 21st-century skills such as collaboration, endurance, resilience, and grace, not to mention the skills associated with cutting-edge technology.

As this difficult school year comes to a close, I applaud all students from pre-school to 12th grade for surviving the most difficult of years. In addition, as graduation approaches, I congratulate the graduating seniors who have had to give up so much while putting forth so much. But, as I will tell them in my commencement address, what a payoff awaits them all! They are now ready for anything that the world has in store for them. They are ready for their future.

Congratulations to the class of 2021!

Tim Lutz is superintendent of Bemidji Area Schools. He can be reached via email at tim_lutz@isd31.net.