by Becky Sipos, President & CEO, Character.org
“In a completely rational society the best and brightest of us would aspire to be teachers, and the rest of us would have to settle for something less, because passing on civilization from one generation to the next ought to be the highest honor and the highest responsibility anyone could have.” –Lee Iacocca
Teacher Appreciation Week (May 1-7) is a time to reflect on the importance of teachers and how we can best honor and encourage them. As a former high school teacher, I remember the teacher appreciation breakfasts and lunches, the occasional mug or teacher appreciation planner, but not much more.
These were nice gestures, of course, and I did appreciate them. But they didn’t really offset the comments I would often hear at parties, “You’re a high school teacher? Aren’t you afraid?” or “I guess I’ll have to watch my grammar.” And they didn’t really offset the frequent criticism of teachers in the press or my students telling me that they wanted to become teachers, but their parents encouraged them to seek “better, more high-paying professions.”
What offsets that sort of criticism is when students return to say thanks or send letters of appreciation. Most of us go into teaching to make a difference in kids’ lives, and it’s most rewarding when you learn you have been successful. But you don’t always have to receive a note to feel glad you became a teacher.
I was thinking about that last week when I learned that a former student was going to be mentioned on NPR. He is the executive producer of a sold-out play, and the story was about the play, “Voices From the Long War.” What particularly caught my attention is that the cast is not comprised of actors, but veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and refugees from those countries. They share their own personal experiences from during and after the war and they hope to dispel some misconceptions about who they are. The reason that pleased me is that I taught my journalism students that one of the purposes of a newspaper is to give voice to the voiceless. Even though this forum was not a newspaper, Tom had clearly appreciated that lesson. He presented not only veterans’ voices, but combined them with the voices of refugees.
It’s not always success stories that make you feel good about being a teacher. One time I could not in good conscience pass a student, which prevented her from graduating from high school with her class. She was forced to go to summer school to make up the credit. Too embarrassed to stay at her school, she enrolled at another school in the district. Unbeknownst to her, the teacher she got knew me. I don’t know how the conversation came about, but he called me out of the blue (not knowing the story) to say that he had one of my former students in his class, and she had told him I was the best teacher she ever had. I was shocked. Sometimes enforcing consequences is the right thing to do. Learning how she felt sure made me feel better about my decision and feel that I was making a difference as a teacher.
As we celebrate Teacher Appreciation Week, first, celebrate yourself for the efforts you are making. As President Obama said in his teacher week proclamation: “[Teachers] witness the incredible potential of our youth, and they know firsthand the impact of a caring leader at the front of the classroom.” Take pride in the positive impact you are making even if the results are not yet obvious. Second, let other teachers know that you appreciate their efforts. Contact a former teacher in your life, and let them know how they affected you. Or simply give a colleague a specific compliment for something you seen them doing. President Obama’s proclamation also said what research has shown: “Just as we know a student’s circumstances do not dictate his or her potential, we know that having an effective teacher is the most important in-school factor for student success.
On National Teacher Appreciation Day and during National Teacher Appreciation Week, let us ensure our educators know how much we value their service in the classroom,how much we appreciate all they do for our students and families, and how thankful we are for their contributions to our national progress.”
Thank you for being a teacher.
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