As Teacher Appreciation Week draws to a close, it leaves in its wake both warmth and excitement, but also lingering concern.
As teachers across the country are leading national debates about school safety and funding for education, how does a week of discounts and other freebies help? Wouldn’t that time and energy be better spent advocating for the policies about which teachers care most? In the context of these difficult policy debates, what good does Teacher Appreciation Week really do?
To think of Teacher Appreciation Week as insubstantial or superfluous in a time of crisis mistakes its purpose and impact. The week is not just about thanking teachers and giving back to the educators who have done so much for all of us. It is also about looking forward and ensuring that the next generation of students has excellent teachers who care deeply about them.
Give Them Their Due
Studies show that recognizing teachers for great work actually helps make them better teachers, and that great teachers who are regularly recognized for their work intend to continue teaching twice as long as those who don’t.
Teachers who receive recognition are more engaged at work, and greater teacher engagement leads to greater student engagement, which in turn leads to better student outcomes.
In the end, Teacher Appreciation Week is about more than giving due thanks. It is about making the whole education system work better for everyone—teachers and students—by elevating, supporting and improving the teaching profession as a whole.
Just a Week?
If Teacher Appreciation Week does have a failing, it is its limited duration.
For recognition to lead to improved teacher performance, it needs to be frequent, individualized, and deserved. Celebrating teachers once a year doesn’t sustain teachers in what is a highly satisfying, deeply rewarding and often joyful, if stressful, job.
In fact, 71 percent of teachers report that they have not recently received recognition. Many individual schools, districts and states run Teacher of the Year programs. But, as prestigious as those programs are, they benefit a relatively small number of teachers.
This is why, in 2017, we launched Honored, a national nonprofit dedicated to elevating the teaching profession that serves as a platform for students and parents across the country to recognize teachers for extraordinary work.
Each month, Honored shines a spotlight on one teacher Honoree who has changed the life of a single student. Each Honoree receives a $5,000 award and a $1,000 gift card to DonorsChoose.org, and Honored enlists a world-class writer to tell the teacher’s story and help illuminate for a broad audience the unparalleled possibilities of a career in teaching.
In addition, because Honored’s awards are driven by student and parent nominations, every teacher who is nominated receives a copy of their student’s nomination detailing how the teacher has changed that student’s life. This means that along with the 12 teachers a year who become nationally recognized Honorees, there are thousands of teachers who receive the individual, frequent, earned feedback that research shows makes such an important impact on their careers.
We All Get It
Honoring teachers is, of course, what Teacher Appreciation Week is all about. And the week has generated such a passionate following in part because it makes profound yet intuitive sense to the many of us who can recall in our own lives a particular teacher who believed in us, who saw potential that we did not even see yet in ourselves and who inspired us to dream bigger dreams. We know that the landscapes of our lives were forever changed by the course that those teachers helped us to set for ourselves, and we know that we are impossibly indebted to those teachers.
Even, and perhaps especially, in times of strife for the profession, recognizing teachers during Teacher Appreciation Week and through Honored awards is just as critically important for the long-term health and growth of the profession as are the pressing policy issues that we face. If we can consciously and systematically recognize and reward great teachers, we can help ensure that great teachers stay in the classroom longer and that a new generation of talent is inspired to pursue teaching.