So This Is What You Call ‘Teacher Appreciation’?

May 8, 2018 12:00:00 AM


It’s Teacher Appreciation Day. But I have to admit it’s kind of a weird time to collect a free burrito and feel “appreciated.” In some places, like my home state of Minnesota, we do OK on salary, but in West Virginia, Arizona, North Carolina, Kentucky, Colorado—the list keeps growing of states where teacher walkouts have happened or are planned to demand better pay and more resources. In Oklahoma, the adjusted gross income for a 17-year veteran teacher who was nominated for state teacher of the year is $28,000. [pullquote position="right"]I think we’re going to need a lot more burritos.[/pullquote] Meanwhile, on social media I see these teacher protests bring out a lot of folks who think teachers are paid just fine for a job they see as essentially part-time. They see teachers walking out as selfish and damaging to the students they are supposed to be serving and are not quiet about saying so. Here are some actual posts I saw: “Do your job and actually teach students then ask for a raise.” “I hope they don't get raises for indoctrinating our kids.” “Great example they are setting—walk off the job and throw a temper tantrum until you get your own way.” Do we appreciate teachers for molding more tolerant and empathic young people? Just last week, a new National Teacher of the Year was named at a ceremony at the White House. The teacher, Mandy Manning, from Spokane, Washington, wore buttons supporting the humanity of various marginalized groups, many of them representative of her own mostly refugee and immigrant students. Though she did shake the president’s hand at first, they did not connect for a handshake after his speech. At that point she was also carrying her heavy crystal award with two hands, but the bot-signal was lit, and over the course of 24 hours, her social media accounts were inundated by shockingly hateful messages. “She is the perfect example of why our schools are failing.” “POS leftist. You shouldn’t be teaching our kids.” “You’re vile just the worst kind of person in America.” They said more, they said worse. There have been death threats and family harassment. She is a real human person who has dedicated herself to the education and empowerment of young people, and her first week as the national representation of teaching included [pullquote position="left"]more vile hatred than anyone should have to endure.[/pullquote] If we are to ever fully live up to the promise of our country, we will do it through schools. Free, universal education is a goddamn miracle and is relatively new in the history of history. It is enormously expensive and it is worth every penny, and I promise you, I promise you, teaching is not easy and all most teachers want is for it to be a little less impossible. Schools will never get there without teachers, and teachers will never do it alone. We can do better than this for each other. To the anti-teacher shouters, here’s what you’re missing: Teachers are not your enemy. By and large, we are not trying to brainwash your children. We are trying to expose them to the vast expanse of human experience in the world, and believe they will be better (and more employable) adults because of it. [pullquote]A real education cannot be apolitical, I promise.[/pullquote] There is no “just focusing on reading and arithmetic,” because the politics of who and where we are cannot be erased from our classrooms. That said, we educators should hear you when you say we can do better at being inclusively political. If I was turning my daughter over every morning to learn literature and history and science from a building full of teachers wearing MAGA hats on their Facebook profile pictures, I wouldn’t be super comfortable. To the “teachers are never ever wrong” shout-backers, here’s what you’re missing: In order to teach the world we live in, yes, we must talk about race and class and teach tolerance. But we can do that in lots of ways that don’t involve telling students their parents are mean idiots. And what about feeling “appreciated”? Any teacher can tell you that if you want to feel appreciation, the only reliable (and always most important) source is the students themselves. While I was on Facebook last week, scrolling through all those posts on Mandy Manning’s wall, a student from many years back messaged me. This happens sometimes, to all of us. “I grew up in a household enveloped by a cult-like devotion to their faith.” “They also physically hurt me a lot, at times to points of near death.” “I learned so much during your class and I also learned that adults could actually help kids grow and flourish naturally instead of imposing their will on me. I wanted to thank the adults that were there for me and had faith in me.” This, this is what teacher appreciation feels like. I am grateful for the burritos, but they’ll never match the words of the kids who’ve been in my classroom. They help to drown out some pretty ugly noise.

Tom Rademacher

Tom Rademacher (Mr. Rad to his students) is an English teacher in Minneapolis, Minnesota. In 2014 he was named Minnesota Teacher of the Year. He teaches writing and writes about teaching on his blog. His book, published by University of Minnesota Press, is called "IT WON’T BE EASY: An Exceedingly Honest (and Slightly Unprofessional) Love Letter to Teaching."

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