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Lights, Camera, Take-Action: Valuing Teachers throughout the Year

Treva Jenkins Education, Teacher Leadership

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As I sort through my endless number of email messages, I am reminded that this is the time of year when most school districts will have a special end-of-year ceremony to honor their teachers. My district has an award ceremony in May where teachers honor their peers for their dedication and hard work. There seems to always be an appreciation day (or week or month…) for anything and everything, even inanimate objects.  The first full week of May is actually Teacher Appreciation Week. Should we feel honored to get a full week? Forgive me if you sense a little bit of sarcasm here. Given everything under the sun that teachers do for their school, their students and their colleagues can you blame me? No, we don’t do it for the applause (as Lady Gaga would belt out); we don’t do it do it for any accolades, and we definitely don’t do it for the money, but I would argue that teachers and principals should be appreciated every day, of every week, of every month—all year long! There is no other career that has a greater, more powerful and long term impact on young minds. Every day educators enter the classroom carrying the most supreme gift of all… themselves! As teachers, we facilitate the learning of our young scholars. We “coach” them through life, and we inspire them to challenge themselves and accomplish more than they could ever dream of or imagine.

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As teachers, we indeed have a profound impact on our students; we all have unique backgrounds that we bring to the classroom. Think about all the educators you have met throughout your teaching career. Every time I attend a teacher conference, seminar or workshop, I constantly meet people, of all ages and cultures, who eagerly want to share their story of how and why they became a teacher; some even share how their lives were influenced by a teacher. In addition to countless anecdotal stories, current research shows the importance of the impact teachers have on students. Research done by the “Helping Kids Succeed Arizona Style” foundation states that students who feel supported by their teachers are eight times more likely to be academically motivated than students who do not believe their teachers support them. Teachers make a difference in the lives of their students every day; this impact is not just limited to the classroom walls.

What’s my point? How is this related to valuing teachers and their voices all year round?

With this new presidency and our education system possibly undergoing many changes, I believe that student and teacher voices must be at the core of any meaningful and long term education reform effort. My 15+ years of teaching has confirmed that we must listen to students and teachers if we expect any real positive change in education; those higher than our pay grade must honor, acknowledge and value our input, not just once a year, but at every opportunity. Anyone who is truly serious about improving education must listen to the voices of those who actually have firsthand experience! Teachers who feel valued as human beings will most likely feel more at ease to speak out on things that matter to them and their students.  Teachers should feel valued as professionals in their own right. Do we really need to wait for a special month or end-of-year ceremony to do that? When teachers’ voices are valued, their students benefit. Period! Unfortunately, teachers’ finding their voice is not a natural occurrence in schools. As teachers, many of us are most comfortable talking to students; we are not so at ease when communicating with our peers or principals. For school leaders to foster and nurture teacher voice, they must support the development of teachers’ communication skills, and show their willingness to listen to and learn from teachers. The key is for all stakeholders to share responsibility for valuing teacher voice. Teachers are looking for more than just flowers or chocolate in their in-boxes (although who would ever pass on chocolate-yummy); no, it’s as simple as just asking me what I think. It’s amazing how valued teachers feel when simply asked for their professional opinions. This communication is also a two-way street.  As teachers, we also need to remember to consistently be reaching out to our policy makers and community members for their support and ear.

I am truly appreciative any time anyone honors teachers for their commitment to the profession. However, teacher recognition must be more than a token appreciation. Teachers need to be valued for what they do and who they are as professionals all school year. Our voices must be an integral part of all school improvement efforts and culture of the school.

 

My name is Treva Jenkins and I am an Arizona Master Teacher. My journey into education did not begin right away. After college, I spent several years in the United States Army as a Military Intelligence Officer. I learned a great deal and the knowledge and experience gained from the military was priceless, but my heart yearned to work with young people. After leaving the military, I began to pursue a career in education by working at a very special charter school for at-risk youth. This experience shaped my educational philosophy; this is when I truly fell in love with teaching. I eventually received my post-baccalaureate and a Master’s degree in Education Reform and Intervention from Ottawa University. I am currently teaching at a Title I public school in the Maricopa Unified School District. Each year, I get the privilege of teaching an amazing group of 7th grade students. My love and passion is helping my students discover the exhilarating world of English, Language Arts. Not only do I get to teach an extraordinary group of 7th graders every year, I am a mentor teacher. As a mentor teacher, I have the wonderful opportunity of helping beginning teachers find success and gratification in their new work. I understand that being a lifelong learner is a core responsibility of my profession. Currently, I am a candidate for National Board Teacher Certification. The journey into becoming a National Board Certified Teacher has truly changed my teaching practice. The process helps to inform my practice, to become a better teacher, and to reflect on what I do in the classroom. I have been teaching for over 16 years and the greatest inspiration is my students. I am also experiencing the best of both worlds, a type of educational utopia: helping my students discover their true potential and providing support to our valuable beginning teachers. There’s a passage from the Bible that I keep close to my heart when I am reflecting on my teaching experiences. The author writes, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Regardless of the many trials we may face in education today, platforms like this one provide hope for educators who want to have a voice on issues that really matter to them. I look forward to sharing my stories with you and hearing your feedback, experiences and opinions on policies impacting the classroom. Remember, “education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” – Nelson Mandela

  • Jen Robinson

    Treva-
    Thank you for sharing this post. You are absolutely right, teachers, scholars and administration need more appreciation than a week. The past few weeks have been particularly challenging with “misunderstood” parents coming into the office needing to explode. We have offered that ear and listened as they vented, but it was incredibly draining. Walking out onto our campus and in and out of classrooms calmed my mind and took me back to why we do what we do. THANK YOU for being a teacher, a teacher leader and an inspiration to our scholars and more.

  • kbuffett

    Treva, this was a FANTASTIC post. I think the issues you raised here are very important.

    You are absolutely right in saying that educator appreciation should expand beyond one week — it should be happening year round. Teachers are the champions of the students they teach, and they should be treated as such.

    This point you raised is especially salient: “Teachers who feel valued as human beings will most likely feel more at ease to speak out on things that matter to them and their students.”

    That quote should be shared not only in the education community, but with the families of students as well. How you treat someone really matters. Once again, great post. :)

  • Beth Maloney

    Treva, this is spot on. This should be the Teacher Army manifesto: “Anyone who is truly serious about improving education must listen to the voices of those who actually have firsthand experience! Teachers who feel valued as human beings will most likely feel more at ease to speak out on things that matter to them and their students. Teachers should feel valued as professionals in their own right.” Excellent. Look for my take on Teacher Appreciate Week coming later this week.