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.
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.