It’s Teacher Appreciation Week, but you may be surprised to learn that a lot of teachers don’t much appreciate it. Why? It’s the way they are being “appreciated.”
During Teacher Appreciation Week, educators are given gifts from students, and offered free and reduced-price food at stores and restaurants. They get pats on the back, flowers and even money to thank them for their work. Indeed, the National PTA, a prime mover behind Teacher Appreciation Week, has partnered with the fundraising website GoFundMe.com for a “Thank a Teacher” campaign, in which GoFundMe will match donations of $100 each to campaigns by and for teachers. (You can read about that here.) And teachers are repeatedly called heroes and “superheroes,” as in this plug by the National PTA:
Teachers are real-life superheroes. They educate, innovate, encourage and support. Every day they touch the lives of millions of children and their work and impact extends far beyond the boundaries of the classroom.
If that sounds good to you, it doesn’t to many teachers, who say that what they really need isn’t free food and a once-a-year exercise in flattery. What they want, they say, is for their profession to be respected in a way that accepts educators as experts in their field. They want adequate funding for schools, decent pay, valid assessment, job protections and a true voice in policy making.
In recent years, polls have shown teacher morale to be dropping, and teacher shortages are common in state after state. Many educators say that corporate school reformers have targeted teachers as the “problem” with low-performing schools and have attempted to remove teacher autonomy. The Obama administration is seen, by many teachers, as being a big part of the problem, having promoted teacher evaluation systems that teachers say are unfair, and supported groups that they think do a disservice to the profession by placing teachers in classrooms with little training, such as Teach For America.
As John Ewing, an educator and president of the nonprofit Math for America, wrote this in a piece for Huffington Post:
But while all this gratitude is great, it’s only part of what’s missing in American education policy. Real appreciation is more than flattery — it is reflected by actions, not merely words. … When it comes to talking or writing about education, we do not view teachers as experts. We do not trust them as professionals. Can you imagine an engineering conference without engineers as speakers? Can you imagine a science article with no input from scientists? Or a report on some breakthrough in medicine without a quote from a doctor? We treat the profession of teaching differently from all others.
That’s why you can go to Twitter and find on various hashtags promoting Teacher Education Week some telling tweets, along with the many “we love teachers” tweets. For example, from a Texas school district superintendent, John Kuhn:
And there are these:
President Obama issued a proclamation honoring the day and the week, which says in part:
When I took office, I did so with a bold vision to foster innovation and drive change within our education system, and to expand educational opportunities and outcomes for all America’s learners. Central to that goal is our work to build and strengthen the teaching profession so our teachers are enabled and equipped to inspire rising generations. I have worked hard throughout my Presidency to make sure my Administration does its part to support our educators and our education system, but the incredible progress our country has seen — from achieving record high graduation rates to holding more students to high standards that prepare them for success in college and future careers — is thanks to the dedicated teachers, families, and school leaders who work tirelessly on behalf of our young people.
But, as noted above, many teachers don’t view Obama’s policies as being helpful to their profession. In fact, in July 2014, members of the representative assembly of the National Education Association, the largest teachers union in the country and a sponsor of Teacher Appreciation Week, voted for a resolution calling on then-Education Secretary Arne Duncan to resign, accusing him of pushing reform policies that “undermine public schools and colleges, the teaching education professionals, and education unions.” The American Federation of Teachers, the second-largest teachers union, stopped short of calling for Duncan’s resignation in July 2014 but came very close.
Meanwhile, Teacher Appreciation Week goes on. Take a look at some of the press surrounding Teacher Appreciation Week, and Teacher Appreciation Day, which is Tuesday:
National Teacher Appreciation Day (5/3/16): How to get free food at Chipotle, Chick-fil-A
Forget the apples — National Teacher Appreciation Day 2016, also known as National Teacher Day, and part of National Teacher Appreciation Week, brings free grub at two chain restaurants for those who teach. Both Chipotle and Chick-fil-A fans who preside over classrooms in New Jersey will be pleased to know that their meals will be on the house or discounted on Tuesday, May 3.
From WTVD-TV Raleigh-Durham:
Freebies and deals for educators during Teacher Appreciation Week
May 3, 2016 is National Teacher Appreciation Day and May 1-7 is National Teacher Appreciation Week. To say thank you, many businesses are honoring educators with freebies and discounts. Most deals require a valid staff ID, and some require registration for a discount.
And don’t forget that Truecouponing.com offers some free stuff to give to teachers.
Ewing, in his piece on Huffington Post, explains what the teaching profession really needs:
The teaching profession needs two things in order to thrive — respect and trust. The two go together. You can say nice words and be grateful to teachers, but if you do not trust them as professionals, you are not showing them respect. Trust means giving teachers (appropriate) autonomy in their classrooms, but it also means giving them influence over policy — real influence, not a few token teachers on some committee — and it means giving them control over their own professional growth. We need to stop fixing teachers and create environments in which teachers themselves fix their own profession. We need to trust them to do so.
Will some teachers abuse that trust? Of course. That happens in every profession. We can deal with it. Far more will not, however, and on balance education will be greatly improved for everyone, and most especially for the students.
So by all means, during Teacher Appreciation Week express words of gratitude and give awards and flatter teachers who excel at their jobs. But let’s also vow to trust teachers as experts, and to do it through our actions in addition to our words. That shows genuine appreciation — the kind that lasts and makes a difference.