Teacher Appreciation Week: Creating a Culture of Appreciation

Help wanted: Minimum of Bachelor’s Degree. Master’s Degree strongly preferred. Subject matter expertise in at least one content area and at least one stage of human development in children under 18 required by professional certification. Approximately 80% of the time will be in the field without any other professional with you interacting with groups of 10-35 children at a time. Conditions can vary from one to six of these groups rotating through your day. Pay will be approximately 25% lower than other college-educated professionals. Compensation may vary depending on the performance of youth on an assessment you do not get to see before or after its administration. Ten to twelve hour work days, and additional time on weekends, for 40 weeks a year is balanced by two weeks of winter holiday and 10 weeks of summertime in which you can participate in semi-voluntary learning opportunities. Maybe with pay. Covering the costs of maintaining your professional certification and purchasing your own work supplies are expected. Other roles and duties as assigned include behavior management, personal support counselor, nurse’s aide, social worker, practicing active shooter training, fire drill training, adapting practices to youth needs and home languages, and communicating with parents. Applicant must present to the external world a positive, interested, and interactive attitude at all times. Individual and national achievement and prosperity for generations to come depends on your successful completion of duties.

This is what we ask of our more than 3 million teachers. And, yet, teachers come to work every day to do this monumental, Herculean, nearly impossible job. More amazingly, many practitioners make a 30+ year career out of these working conditions. They are able to find meaning and purpose in the work beyond what state legislatures and school boards decide to pay them. They do so much in very challenging circumstances ranging across neighborhoods of deep poverty to communities filled with self-righteous affluence. They meet the needs of students and families reeling from trauma and are charged with bringing together students from disparate backgrounds into cohesive learning environments. On any given day, teachers are curriculum designers, researchers, engineers, psychologists, problem solvers, diagnosticians, caregivers, and so much more. They show up in these roles, regardless of what is happening in their own world. And at any given moment, they have to be something different for each particular student’s unique set of needs.

Teachers truly are an amazing group of professionals.

As we kick off National Teacher Appreciation Week, individuals and communities across the United States are invited to recognize the importance of honoring teachers and their meaningful work. We absolutely should use this week to shower teachers with gratitude, words of encouragement, and gifts and experiences to acknowledge the amazing job they do.

But, this recognition need not, nor should be, limited to one week at the end of the school year. We need to harness the energy of this week of appreciation and commit to creating a culture of appreciating educators throughout the year. And we can start by ensuring that our statements and acts of appreciation are more than trivial expressions, but rather words and actions that convey the authentic value of their work, recognition of their effort, and highlight our collective dependency on their success. Shifting to a culture of action-based appreciation can occur in a variety of ways in any community throughout the year.

Creating a culture of appreciation can happen with a heightened awareness of what teachers do, small acts of gratitude, and an overall shift in how we think about the work of educators.

Shared Positivity: Given families’ busy schedules, families often only take the time to reach out to administrators or call out an issue around a negative experience or occurrence. And with the prevalence of social media, those negative comments are oftentimes broadcast to a larger group of critics. With only a little bit of effort, families can reach out to these same individuals or groups to share positive stories or feedback. For instance, If your child’s teacher goes out of her way, does something kind, or finds a way to meet your child where they are, let someone know. Tell your friends or reach out to the school’s principal to highlight this good work. It is amazing how a few positive anecdotes can raise morale among school communities.

Written Notes of Appreciation: Writing a quick note or email, and inviting kids to write as well, is a quick way to connect with a teacher and show her that you appreciate her effort. Teachers receive so many emails that add to their to-do list, from asking for help in finding a missing coat to scheduling a meeting to brainstorm supports for a student. A simple note sharing a quick moment of gratitude can serve as a reminder to our teachers that they are appreciated, respected, and noticed. To get started, work with your child to come up with a list of 5 things that you love about your current teacher. Or, keep it simple, and write an email that begins with, “Thank you for…” These words can serve to carry teachers through the challenges that they encounter. You would be surprised how often these personalized notes are kept as mementos.

Respectful Words: Our children develop their values and the way they process and understand their world by listening to those around them. The words they hear become the words that shape the way they communicate. Be sure to speak respectfully about your child’s teacher and their school. Share words that they can use to express gratitude and appreciation. Shape their world by noticing kindness and finding ways to pay it forward. And if you need to problem solve a tricky school situation, do so with respect and an understanding of others’ perspectives. To shape these conversations, remember that students are at the center. And teachers work each and every day to move learning forward for those students.

Classroom Needs: Periodically, check in with your child’s teacher and ask if they need help. And when teachers send out an email asking for the flu-season restock of tissues or dry erase markers that actually still write, help in whatever way you can! Teachers spend a lot of their own money to make learning fun, and they work to find creative solutions to overcome barriers to student learning for your child and other students. Offer your time, talent, and treasures whenever possible, and encourage teachers to reach out for support.

Grace: If at any point you feel frustrated with a situation, take a moment to offer grace to your child’s teacher. Did they forget the manipulatives that were supposed to accompany the nightly math game? Did they copy only one side of a two-sided permission slip? Simply forgive them and share a bit of grace. When your child comes to school with their shorts on backward or with a worm in his pocket, know that they will share that same grace with you.

Partnership: Establish from the very beginning that you value your child’s teacher as a partner in your child’s learning and growth. Start off each school year by sharing a quick note to let your child’s teacher know that they have your support. Simply telling teachers that you value their expertise and perspective can set the tone for a year of open communication and ongoing collaboration. And continue that partnership throughout the year. Just as you know your child’s rhythms, strengths, and needs at home, your child’s teacher has unique insights on how they approach life at school. Collaborating with both perspectives can lead to a highly successful year of learning.

From Individual Acts of Gratitude to a Culture of Appreciation

Take time during this week of teacher appreciation to reach out to your kids’ teachers. Share a kind word or meaningful memory. Find a way to offer support to the teachers at a local school by providing an in-kind service or co-sponsoring a breakfast or lunch. Celebrate, with generosity and fervor, the hard work and successes they have accomplished this year.

And after this week has come and gone, do not let this appreciation wane. Make sure to notice the little things: the phone call about the forgotten tennis shoes, the special lunch with the teacher award, the 15 boxes of pencils they have already purchased. And do not take the big things for granted: the yearlong conversations on respect, the seamless lessons and activities, and the constant modeling of patience and kindness even in the most frustrating circumstances. When you notice something, share it. These acts of personal support and generosity convey to teachers that they are valued as people, as professionals, and as an integral part of your child’s life. For just as we need thoughtful teachers for our children, our teachers need a thoughtful community of support.

This mutually respectful relationship will build up our school communities. If we are able to empower educators through this culture of appreciation, a teacher’s load will be lightened, overall morale will increase, and our teachers will be able to sustain and even increase their positive impact on students. Over time, the shift from individual acts of gratitude to a culture of appreciation and respect for schools and educators will transform how we, as a society, value schools.

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Erin Gohl

Erin Gohl is a Getting Smart columnist, and an independent writer focusing on issues of equity, engagement, and technology in educational policy and practice

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