Over the past three months, our nation’s teachers made the unforeseeable but necessary leap to distance learning. If someone told us back in February that we would be moving all teaching and learning across the country to online platforms for the rest of the academic year, nobody would have believed it.

Parents are getting a crash course in homeschooling and have a new perspective on what it really takes to deliver high quality instruction for several hours every day. They are also realizing that teachers do so much more than teach. Teachers are mentors and counselors and play a major role in the social-emotional and behavioral development of our children. 

Communities have come to rely on schools for more than education, including extended day programs, healthcare services, and, in many cases, meals. Our society’s reliance on the education system makes the teachers and other professionals working in schools a critical cog in the wheel that moves our entire economy forward. Our education system does not work without teachers. And our economy does not work without our education system.

As state governments consider how and when to re-open their economies, it is essential to factor schools into the decision making. We simply cannot open an economy without reopening our schools and summer programs. If parents are expected to go back to work, they need to ensure their children’s needs are being met. To outline a plan that calls for the reopening of retail stores, restaurants and other businesses without acknowledging the imperative – and a plan – to reopen schools is not only short-sighted, but it is also a disservice to the educators filling a critical need in our society.

We also need to acknowledge the path to reopening schools will be complicated. For the foreseeable future, we should expect that schools will toggle between classroom-based and remote learning. But sending kids to school for part of the week does not solve the challenge for Americans who work Monday through Friday.

We need to rethink the school day. Schools are proving that they can deliver quality instruction online, so they should be able to do it anytime of the day and any day of the week. Let’s learn from this. For students to catch up, we need to make the most of all available instruction time, including evenings and weekends.

Finally, when we are ready to open our schools, we need to support our teachers who will become the next frontline workers of the COVID-19 outbreak. For many of us, we see the efforts to transition to remote learning as heroic. Imagine when 50 million children go back to the classroom. Our company employs more than 5,000 teachers across the country and I can tell you, we never thought of the profession as one that comes with significant health risks. But, in the coming weeks, we will ask teachers to return to school and put themselves in harm’s way so that the rest of us can get back to work and reignite our economy. They will heed the call to serve, as they always do. 

When that happens, I hope we galvanize the same kind of national support for teachers that we show for the essential workers today. We are about to see our teachers as the true heroes they are. An official Appreciation Week will not be enough. Without them, there will be no economic recovery.

Jeffrey Cohen is the Chief Executive Officer of FullBloom, a provider of education and behavioral health solutions for more than 100,000 K-12 children and their families, leading to better life outcomes, regardless of the learning obstacles and other challenges they face. The company employs 5,000 educators across the country.