It’s Teacher Appreciation Week again. No doubt we will be treated to a flood of posts on social media, abundant snacks in the faculty room and the occasional half-melted chocolate bar from deep in a backpack. Handwritten notes will magically appear on our desks, both openly and in secret. They will share poignant and humorous platitudes, or they'll be like the hastily scrawled note that was tossed in my general direction as a student raced out of my room into the hall. Purple gel on a rumpled scrap of paper reads, “I know I give you a big headache from being a pest sometimes, but I hope you love me like I love your class,” added to that a middle-school gift in raw form makes my heart sing. Invariably, this happens too: Colleagues gathered in halls or workrooms talk about what we really want out of Teacher Appreciation Week. Coffee and gift cards are great, but you know what would be better? A paradigm shift. Instead of offering teachers one week of sweet gestures, we’d appreciate some of these all-too-rare delicacies that we could enjoy all year long.
Share the Love. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if, for every thank-you note teachers receive, a letter is also sent to someone who needs to know the wonderful learning taking place in our classrooms? Members of the Board of Education, legislators, principals and superintendents—instead of reading another complaint about what needs to be improved—could get a note from a parent recognizing the excellence in their child’s classroom?
Give Us Time. Honor our work and let us teach. Stop with the onslaught of new initiatives and the constant commentary about what we are not doing right. Stop adding things to our plate, which is already too full. Give us time to be innovative, passionate and focused on what we are doing for our students to help them grow to their potential. Honor what we do in our classrooms, and support us doing the hard work of teaching our future leaders. For once, believe that we are doing what is right in the classroom.
Trade that venti latte for something that matters to a student. Instead of giving us coffee gift cards (or buying one for yourself on the way to dropping them off at school), think what that six dollars gives a student: a new book or maybe even two, a new set of colored pencils mid-year when they’re all down to a nub, or two lunches for a student who can’t afford one but doesn’t qualify for free- or reduced-lunch. While we’d drink the latte, we would really like for you to help us by getting something that makes a difference to a child.
So this year why don’t you think about Teacher Appreciation week in a new way? We ask students to reflect on a situation if they are frustrated. Maybe it is time we reflect on ours. Instead of the coffee card or the cupcakes in the faculty room, give us something that makes a difference. Give us respect for who we are and what we do. Besides that student note, that’s the best appreciation gift of all.
Michelle Pearson is the 2011 Colorado State Teacher of the Year and a member of the National Network of State Teachers of the Year. She is is a middle school social studies teacher in the Adams 12 Five Star School District in Thornton, Colorado, where she has been teaching for 25 years.