We've all seen the news about the delta variant and the growing debate over mask requirements in school, and we all feel the anxiety and stress of what it will do to education norms this year. Add to that the fact that the politics of education have stolen most of the headlines and made the 2021-22 school year something more people are dreading than looking forward to, and we have some rough waters ahead for our children and teachers.

With that in mind, I thought it was time we took a break from all the negativity in the world, and focused more on the positive. So, I came up with “HOPE” — Humble Optimism Propelling Education — a principle based on the educators in my life and the values they bring to their jobs and lives each and every day.

I reached out to family members and friends who are teachers and tapped into the resources of some of my past educators, and asked them to share with me their hopes for the upcoming school year. Here is what they said:

"My hope is that we can provide students with a learning environment that is comfortable, consistent and positive. I think they need a break from the uncertain and divisive climate in which we are currently living." — Brent Ragland, High School Art Teacher, Eustace ISD, 12th year

"I want to provide such fun experiences this year for my students through the library with clubs and events that, even when we are still being safe, the kids can leave their anxiety at the door. In my library, it’s just about amazing books, about learning beyond our boundaries, about collaboration with each other and about creating that space where worry goes away. I just hope they enjoy each and every day!" — Kimberly Ragland, Middle School Media Specialist, Forney ISD, 16th year

"A lot of students are returning to the classroom for the first time in nearly a year and half. Being away from a school setting for that period of time can cause a regression in communication and social skills. My hope for those students is that they will have a sense of comfort when returning to the classroom as well as regain their confidence to engage with students and teachers." — Brian Martin, 8th Grade College & Career Explorations Teacher and Football, Track & Soccer Coach, Prosper ISD, 4th year

"My hope for the new school year is for all students to know they are loved, supported and believed in by not only their teachers but also community members. In a time when there is so much uncertainty, I hope they know school is their safe place where they can trust the educators to grow their weaknesses and showcase their strengths. Students are our future and they deserve the best from educators — always." — Lisa McBride, 4th Grade Math/Science Teacher, Terrell ISD, 16th year

"My hope for this upcoming school year is for students to come to school without fear of the unknown. I hope they smile because they are loved and that they develop a passion for learning that will last a lifetime." — Chasity Mixon, 3rd Grade Teacher, Wills Point ISD, 24th year

"I hope this year brings with it a sense of security and anticipation for my students. I hope they come in with their hearts renewed, and an excitement for learning. I also pray for a sense of normalcy, whatever that may look like." — Julia Bingham, 4th Grade Teacher, Austin ISD, 17th year

"I'm hopeful for 'normal school days,' where kids can be kids, learn in an environment where we/they aren’t scared of others and aren’t anxious about the world outside -- where kids worry about kid stuff, and teachers can teach. I hope we can show grace to one another and not let every conversation we have be about COVID, vaccinations or rules/regulations we “must” follow. I hope kids are EXCITED about school and that teachers are allowed to teach." — Nikki Mack, Pre-K through 6th Grade Special Education Teacher, Crandall ISD, 13th year

"My hope is for each of my students to find a safe place at school ... especially in the times we are living in. Many of our students go without food in the summer but it was especially true this summer with the pandemic still going on. I hope we can meet the physical needs of these children, and I want my students to know we are a family in our classroom and this is our safe place. There will always be someone to love on them and give them nourishment!" — Kelley Fletcher, 4th Grade Teacher, Wills Point ISD, 21st year

"As an elementary P.E. Teacher & High School Head Tennis Coach, my greatest HOPE for this new school year is for fear to be exhausted for all! I want my students to remember they are loved & for it to be possible to hug & high-five again! I dream of using equipment freely & seeing my students’ smile with more than their eyes! My prayer is for continued grace & a love for learning that cannot be extinguished! I am ready for “PIVOT” to be just a move in basketball!" Sammi Gunter Hogan, K-6 P.E. Teacher and Head Tennis Coach, Richardson ISD, 20th year

Something I've learned from having two retired teachers as parents is that teaching and the love of children and dedication to their bright future never stops. Just because they're out of "the game" doesn’t mean these teachers aren't in the stands cheering on the next generation that's still out on the field.

They're still following education news. They're still talking to their former teaching partners, offering up advice when it's needed. They're still making the effort to teach the children in their lives because they still have something to offer. Teachers are FOREVER. They never stop.

So, I asked some retired teacher-turned-mentors that I know to share their hopes and advice for the upcoming school year as well:

"Advice for teachers this year — As this new, difficult year begins, I hope my friends still teaching remember that they are important in more ways to our children than ever before. The connection they have to each child will either lift them up or add to their distress. I hope they remember to meet each child where they are and do their best to lift them up and love them. I also encourage them to care for themselves so they are able to give what’s required." — Carla Ragland, 3rd Grade Teacher, Wills Point ISD, Retired with 26 years of service

"As teachers, we always start the year with great anticipation of how 'this year is going to be better than the last.' A summer of evaluation and further education prepares us for that great year. Then, you don't end up getting the students you thought you would, and that's when you have to adapt and make the students you do have successful." — Corky Ragland, High School Agriculture Teacher, Wills Point ISD, Retired with 44 years of service

"May all the students be filled with the love of learning fueled by their kindness and friendship to all the other students and a caring respect for all their dedicated and hard-working teachers." — Jackie Ragland, 1st Grade Teacher, Wills Point ISD, Retired with 39 years of service

"My hope for education is that learning be shared by the student, parent and teacher. Learning cannot stop at the end of the school day. I also hope the state of Texas has learned from the past year how important great teachers are and will compensate them as true professionals." — Viki P. Arnold, Jr. High Language Arts Teacher, Wills Point ISD, Retired with 30 years of service

"I've watched teachers and students successfully survive in an impossible environment for the past 12-16 months. And I see the resilience of a new generation, not just surviving the impossible and unknown, but thriving in the midst of it. My hat is off to all of those still in the game, and my admiration for all of them runs deep." — Mitzi Durham Lynch, Middle School Math Teacher, Wills Point ISD, Retired with 29 years of service

I offer these hopeful statements to all those invested in education — teachers, coaches, administrators, aides, mentors, parents and students — in hopes of inspiring a positive year of learning, growth and success. Here's to a bright school year filled with mutual encouragement of unity, dignity, integrity, growth and education.