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Happy Teacher Appreciation Week!

At school, teacher appreciation week can be one of the best weeks. Perhaps you get a breakfast or lunch (or both! On two different days! That’s the best!), or a small gift in your mailbox (Please let it be candy!). You can tell the students who made their gift themselves – I save those – and the students whose parents give them something large and unknown early in the morning.

“I don’t know what this is, but I was told to give it to you.”

My favorite gifts are from the parents’ who give the Visa gift card and say “I can’t bring alcohol into the building for you, so get some yourself.”

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My current daily view, all day long.

In reality, I have a problem with the concept of ‘appreciation weeks’. It’s wonderful to feel appreciated and loved. My humble opinion is that we should be appreciating our teachers, nurses, police, administrative assistants, and dare I say it, mothers and fathers, every day of the year.

“But Daniel, these weeks are just a focus of attention! It’s so parents and the public have a chance to give attention to a group.”

I Know! That’s the problem! You see, what teachers want more than a gift or candy or a coffee card from Starbucks is hard to get during a single week. We want less paperwork and testing, more interaction chances with students, more planning time, less administrative hoops to jump through, and fewer students per class. We want to not have to learn different technology platforms every year. We want more resources in the building, and we’re tired of justifying why we don’t actually get the summer off to everyone from your father-in-law to that cousin you only see at holiday time.

I could write a list of bullet points if it would be more helpful. Appreciating people for one week means we don’t often express appreciation the rest of the year, and that’s bad for society.

The current Quarantine and Stay-At-Home-Orders frame this year’s teacher appreciation week (and nurse appreciation week!) in stark light. Never before have our essential workers needed more appreciation. I have 130 students. I do everything possible to get them online. The school system is doing everything possible. The administration is doing everything possible. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen our large, public school system (one of the top 20 in the nation in size, largest in Maryland!) be this flexible.

But every week I still have to record attendance and look through my emails, online platform work submissions, and zoom records to find which children haven’t been attending. That list isn’t just ‘kids with trouble accessing the internet’ which is code for ‘poor kids’. It includes children with massive anxiety issues that have only gotten worse at home, children in homeless shelters, children who are helping their younger siblings through mornings of elementary school distance learning and just can’t muster the mental strength to log onto a computer in the afternoon after doing it for four hours of abcs, 123s, and the history of Maryland. Staying-at-home sucks for them, but the alternative is worse.

We’re building a plane while trying to fly it. It’s also on fire. Everything is on fire. Some of the passengers missed the plane, and we have to pull them onto it with chromebook powercords and ‘mifi’-grappling hooks. Some of us are flying our own plane while trying to make sure our own children are being good passengers in someone else’s plane. The stress and overwhelming feeling of failure is ever present. Hell, I don’t have my own children at home, and I feel overwhelmed by this.

“Get to the point!” – The point is this. Saying thank you one week of a school year isn’t really ‘appreciation.’ Appreciation is voting to support policies that increase the pay of your local teachers, support staff, and administrators. It’s approving higher taxes (yes!) to increase the money going to schools to hire more teachers, build more classrooms and more or newer school buildings. It’s increasing the funding for school counselors, paraeducators, support personnel and the arts. It’s coming to school events (as possible, not everyone has a family/work life structure that allows you to come to evening events), parent teacher conferences, and responding to texts and emails. It’s caring in acts, not just words. Especially words plastered on television and cards one week a year.

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That cardboard? Paper mache products? Paint? Mine, all mine.

For heaven’s sake, it’s not complaining that you need to send your child to school with pencils. Or that when the teacher asks for several extra boxes of materials at the beginning of the year, you suck it up and you buy it for them because you know they paid for some of their own for the kids who truly can’t afford it.

Or maybe, just maybe, you vote for policies and politicians that ensure that I can access pencils all year long, because sometimes the children just seem to eat them or something.

I’ve seen so many quotes, memes, FB and twitter posts during this time that boil down to ‘Teachers ought to be paid X million dollars, and I’m going to pick them up some extra Clorox wipes or tissues or bottles of red wine or dry erase markers when I can finally send my children back to school.”

YES. That’s true. Appreciation is realizing that the people who see and interact with your child longer than you do, at times, are, perhaps, important. Not in a ‘you’re a person, you’re important’ but more of a ‘oh, you’re an essential part of a functioning society and shouldn’t be paid below a livable wage in some parts of the richest nation on the planet.’

Teaching is, and has always been, a ‘team sport’. But if the teacher is both quarterback and coach, then the student is the wide receiver and the parent is the offensive lineman, it is easy to blame the quarterback when things go wrong, rather than the wide receiver for not catching the ball or the offensive lineman for not blocking well. I had a whole analogy here, then remembered that those are things I really disliked learning as a student, and teaching as an educator.

Teaching is a team sport. If one part is struggling, all the parts of the team struggle. It gets exponentially harder to make it over the finish line if parts are working against each other.

So this teacher appreciation week, thank the teachers in your life, past and present. Send them heartfelt notes, have your kids write letters, and find the perfect amount of candy (a maximum sized bag of Twix or Crunch bars will work fine) to send in the next time we’re together.

But also, the next time you’re in the voting booth, pick the person who wants to help your local services. The one who supports the unions and wants to increase wages. The one who looks to expand training opportunities and reduce testing or workload. The one who wants to improve the social safety net – be it teachers, nurses, public recreation facilities, affordable housing – whatever!

That’s the true meaning of appreciation – knowing the worth of a person’s job, and appreciating how challenging it is, past and present – and acting accordingly throughout the year to support them and help them. This is true whether you have kids or not. Whether you live in a red, purple, or blue state. Strong schools, hospitals, fire, police, supporting service departments = strong communities = strong tax bases and home values and ….I could go on and on.

I’ll end on a high note – These notes come from a student I had more than ten years ago – an email and then a handwritten letter (with photo!). This is why I teach. (Everything else above would be nice, too, you know.)

 


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