One Teacher Appreciation Week years ago, we each remember being thrilled to find letters from our principal in our school mailboxes thanking us for all our wonderful work that year and commenting on how important we were to the school community.
As new teachers, it was reassuring and validating to read how much he believed in and appreciated us. Then, a few minutes later, the positivity turned to frustration when we discovered that we had received the exact same note. Realizing our principal had sent an identical message to every teacher in our school was not the type of appreciation that made us feel valued or recognized our hard work.
While we didn’t get into teaching for the accolades, like anyone, we craved actual recognition and respect from our managers and colleagues. We were working days, nights and weekends to try to provide our kids with the excellent education they so deserved. But it was clear our principal only saw us as an afterthought.
Unfortunately, this extended far beyond Teacher Appreciation Week. At all levels of education decision-making, people were making decisions about our classrooms without consulting the people working in classrooms every day.
To create an excellent and equitable education system, this had to change. That’s why we, along with a dozen other teachers, started Educators for Excellence (E4E) nearly nine years ago. Despite research showing that classroom teachers are the single most important in-school factor in improving student achievement, teachers’ voices have been consistently left out of education policy decisions. Only a third of teachers today say they feel represented a great deal at the school level, and that number shrinks further at the union, district or charter network, state, and federal levels. At E4E, we believe that teachers should have a leading voice in the policies that impact their students and their profession.
Here are three ways to show teachers we truly appreciate them this week—and all year long.
- Give them a seat at the policymaking table. Teachers know what works with their students and what doesn’t. Who better to offer principals, administrators and policymakers insights into how to craft smart policies and garner the necessary buy-in from their colleagues to ensure they are implemented effectively? New legislation in Connecticut aimed at recruiting and retaining a more diverse teacher workforce is a testament to what is possible when teachers, administrators and legislators team up.
- Give them the opportunity to lead within their schools. An overwhelming 92% of teachers say they wish there were more opportunities to further their careers and professional skills while staying in the classroom. With so many principals struggling to keep up with a seemingly endless list of administrative and pedagogical duties, and so many teachers wanting to lead, fostering teacher leadership is a clear win-win. Teacher leaders could take on a variety of hybrid roles, from mentor, to peer evaluator, to professional development facilitator, providing them the opportunity to grow professionally while allowing schools to benefit from the talent already in their buildings.
Following E4E teachers’ recommendations, Los Angeles implemented a pilot program allowing educators to serve in hybrid roles to both teach and support their schools to meet the diverse needs of their students. The program has been successful not only in improving student outcomes, but also in retaining teachers, leading the district to expand it by hiring more hybrid teachers.
- Give them the resources to meet their students’ needs. Eighty-four percent of teachers nationally are concerned about funding inequity. They see firsthand that too often critical resources are not reaching the students or schools where they are most needed and they are eager to take action. Not only have teachers played a critical role in advocating for fairer funding, they almost unanimously favor financial incentives for teachers who teach in hard-to-staff schools. That’s why E4E-New York teachers successfully advocated for a $7,200 raise in teacher salaries to attract and keep great teachers in schools serving the most vulnerable students, just in time for Teacher Appreciation Day.
This year and every year, we should be able to do better than form letters or free coffee and donuts in the teachers’ lounge. If we want to show teachers we actually appreciate them, we need to think beyond one week in May and give educators the recognition, voice, resources and support they deserve.