Oscar Wilde has a famous quote about work: "The best way to appreciate your job is to imagine yourself without one." I invoked the spirit of this quote as I drove to work this morning, completely not in the mood. Then I imagined the quote with a slight twist: substitute the word "job" for "teacher".
Early one morning last week, one of the parents of a recently graduated senior came bearing gifts. She had handmade each one of our staff members a beautiful ceramic teacup/pencil holder. There were 26 pieces in all, each one completely different from the next. The glaze colors were beautiful.
Carole gave me a big hug. She said, with slightly teary eyes "Thank you so much for all you did for Connor. He couldn't have done it without you." Then she instructed me to put the cups out and let each staff member choose one that they liked the most.
My colleagues began to arrive about an hour later. Each one came over to the table, read the little sign I had posted, and with huge grins began to pick up different cups until finding just the right one. By the time our morning meeting began, the table was clear and we were convened in our whole staff meeting, drinking coffee from our own, personal, handmade cups.
We felt appreciated.
I have never been a fan of the old phrase "teachers don't do it for the money". I mean.....we don't, per se, but that doesn't mean we don't deserve it. Still, those of us that have been truly called to this profession (truly, as in, for a lifetime) know that we don't do it for the money even though we know we should make more. And if one day things do change for the better, if the powers that be wise up and pay us our due, then we will be happy, for we will finally be receiving what we have deserved all along. We won't necessarily feel more appreciated though. Giving someone what they deserve to get is an act of fairness, not appreciation.
We also don't really feel appreciated when stores like OfficeMax give us "Teacher Appreciation" discount coupons for highlighters and notebooks. Highlighters and notebooks are important tools of the trade. They may help us do our jobs more effectively, but they are just that: tools of the trade. You don't express appreciation to someone by giving that person something to make them work more; you give them a vacation, or a nice meal, or a handmade cup.
Higher salaries may be a long way off, but the simple ways that folks can express appreciation for the hard work that teachers do can start right now. I have a pile of thank-you notes from past students and parents over the years. When I re-read them, I feel appreciated.
The highlighters though? not so much.