What teachers really want for Teacher Appreciation Week
Our teachers are under siege. They're underfunded, over-scrutinized and exhausted. And we're all paying the price.
We're losing our best teachers. Nearly half. Four out of every 10 freshly minted teachers will leave the profession in the first five years of their career. Why? Because as the Association of Teachers and Lecturers General Secretary Mary Bousted says, teaching is a profession that has become "incompatible with normal life."
I happen to know one of these teachers. Just a few years into her career, Lauren (not her real name) is without question what you would call a rock star teacher. She has won all kinds of awards, and the thriving kids in her class are proof they're well deserved. But she's leaving teaching at the end of the school year to pursue a career in travel. Countless kids are losing a fantastic, spirited, smart teacher, and that sucks. When I asked her what she would like more than anything else for Teacher Appreciation Week, her response reflected her disillusion.
"Competent administrators, a supportive district and a living wage would be nice, I guess..."
That doesn't really sound like such a tall order, does it?
And so with Lauren and so many of her colleagues in mind, here are a few things that teacher in your life would sincerely appreciate during this Teacher Appreciation Week.
1. Professional respect
Teachers are professionals with a specialized knowledge not just of the subject they teach, but they are actually certified experts in the way kids learn. Listen to them, and take their opinions seriously. They really do know what they're talking about.
2. The benefit of the doubt
Chalk it up to Tiger Mom or helicopter parents or the ultra-competitive nature of parenting in the new millennium, but parents by and large just don't have the teacher's back anymore. Let's try to remember that teachers are there because they want to help, and work on giving them a little more support when our smart-mouth kid needs to learn some self-control during math class.
3. Your support
After a long day, it's hard to come home and immediately launch into "enforcer" mode, especially when it comes to schoolwork. But teachers need to know you're making school a priority at home too. Your investment at home can make a huge difference in your kid's education. So support their discipline and boundaries. Make sure homework is getting done. And if you have the time, volunteering in the classroom is a great way to connect with your kid's school experience and lend a hand too.
4. School supplies
Gutted school budgets across the country have forced the burden of adequate school supplies to fall directly — and shamefully — on the shoulders of the underpaid teachers themselves. One teacher just last month had already spent $800 over the school year on school supplies when her pencil sharpener broke. So she turned to crowdfunding for the $323 she needed for a replacement pencil sharpener for her classroom. If you'd like to give the teacher in your life a gift for any holiday, consider a gift card to your local office supply or big box store so they can stock up on what they need.
5. Kids with full bellies
Three out of four public schoolteachers say they have kids who come to school hungry on a regular basis. First, make sure your own students are going to school on a full stomach, and support programs that expand low-cost breakfasts and lunches for every single student every day. Teachers are spending an average of $35 per month to stock classrooms with food for hungry kids, so next time you're at the grocery store, pick up something for your favorite teacher. Or better yet, get a grocery store gift card so the teacher can get exactly what their students need.
Because being a teacher is a hard job, and a nice bottle of wine makes almost anything better. Cheers!
7. Your vote
You don't have to look very hard to see the damage the past decade of extremely underfunded schools has done to our country. The next time a budget override or increase comes on the ballot in your neighborhood, vote for it. Pay a little extra in taxes, and call it a smart investment in your community's future. Our education system is the foundation for tomorrow's America, and we need policies in place to strengthen our education system, not cut off all its funding and then scream about its lack of quality.
Teachers value — and need — a steady stream of communication about what's going on with your kid. They want to know, and it helps them do a better job of meeting your kid's needs. You, however, aren't the important person in the relationship; the teacher and student are. Also, you don't need to "sell" you kid's abilities to the teacher. They'll figure that out on their own (remember, they are certified for this). Attend parent-teacher conferences, come prepared with questions, and actually be open to the feedback, which is easier said than done, admittedly.
9. Your teamwork
Another one of my favorite teachers, Susan (not her real name), when asked what she would want most for Teacher Appreciation Week, had this incredible response. "The gift I would most treasure is to have parents realize that we are all on the same side," she says. "We love their children and want them to have all the choices in life that a strong education can provide. We are a team."
Amen. Let's give our teachers a little more of that.
10. A nap
Not sure how to pull this one off, but I bet you know a teacher who could really use a nap. Maybe a fold-down classroom cot for lunchtime? If you figure this one out, call me.
11. A "thank you"
They give encouragement and teach kids to read. They love our kids like they are their own and are asked to care even though they're surrounded by apathy and criticism. During this Teacher Appreciation Week, sure, candy is a sweet gesture, and everyone loves a Starbucks card, but a simple "thank you for everything you do every day" would probably go a long way. If it becomes a habit, great. Our teachers could use a little love; they don't get too much of it these days. And you know you'll miss them over summer vacation.
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