As Teacher Appreciation Week comes to a close, students, parents and communities have celebrated favorite teachers for their hard work nationwide. Thousands of teachers across the country have received gift as simple as a nice “Thank You” to small gifts and public recognition. These little things do not go unnoticed, and are definitely appreciated by teachers everywhere. If anything, teachers would enjoy these little signs of appreciation on a more year-round, consistent basis. Teachers deservedly earn this gratitude by the central, diverse role they play in the lives of our children. Teachers wear many hats, per se, as exhibited by this Harlem Shake video sponsored by the National Education Association (NEA):
These many hats take their toll, however. For a group that serves as mentors, counselors, coaches and sometimes even babysitters, teachers take on extra stress and little money for their efforts which often extend far beyond the classroom. According to annual surveys by the Metlife Foundation, high school teachers report high levels of stress and low job satisfaction rates year in and year out. What can be done to help the teacher and the teaching experience? The NEA conducted a poll with over 1,000 educators contributing, asking what teachers really want.
“Trust my education and experience. Give me control over my students’ instruction and assessment” (29.1%)
“Stop the standardized testing mania (28.06%)
“Pay me the salary I deserve” (19.98%)
“Smaller classes so I can give more individualized attention” (11.66%)
“A classroom with adequate school supplies” (5.66%)
More time for class preparation and grading” (5.54%)
The top two results are intricately tied together, addressing a longstanding problem with the standard testing practices in this country. To paraphrase a line from season four of The Wire, teachers want to to teach kids for learning, not just teach for tests. Teachers want to have better control over what they can teach and be flexible in their instruction to maximize their reach with students. Unfortunately, the standard testing practices that occur are difficult (think state assessment tests, SAT, etc.) to teach for with increased student engagement.
Teacher salary agenda only surfaces after the first two priorities, but also ties in the rest of the concerns as well, including smaller classes, adequate supplies and extra time for class preparation and grading. Unfortunately these are all budget related issues, and when states face deficits, recession and sequester, education is traditionally one of the first cutbacks across the board. For the educators and parents alike, there is no question that teachers deserve to be paid better with the tools they need to maximize the positive impact they can have on children’s lives. However, the priorities of state and federal politics, particularly in the face of budget deficits, make it burdensome to effectively address these teacher concerns.
So continue to thank a teacher, thank many teachers and take the time to show your appreciation to those educators that do the best they can for the children. However, also take the time to think about how you can advocate for a better educational experience and making education a priority for your community. There may be only one Teacher Appreciation Week, but that should not stop us from supporting our teachers throughout the year and speaking on their behalf.