Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Appreciating Teachers

This week is National Teachers Appreciation Week. We're not sure who declared it so, but we didn't check too hard, because we think it is a great idea to take some time to appreciate these oft-maligned professionals who shaped our lives and who shape the lives of our children. We asked some teachers what they would appreciate -- what would make their work easier, their lives better, and let them know that the work they do is valued. Here is what we learned:

Teachers want parents to care about what goes on in school. Some parents will be surprised by this, since they are incredibly involved in their children's education, but teachers tell us that too many parents are disconnected from what is happening in their child's class. Many of these are parents for whom long work hours, responsibilities at home, and possibly language or cultural barriers make it difficult for them to show up at teacher's conferences, or to send in a note, or respond to a telephone call. And it can be the parents of the most complex children who are least able to participate in the life of the school. Outreach to these parents from community and cultural organizations and opportunities to come to school at different times of the day or night -- possibly with child care provided -- can help raise the level of involvement of these parents.

Teachers don't want to hear about their short work days or long vacations. They spend innumerable hours outside the classroom preparing lessons, grading papers, and improving their professional skills. They advise school clubs and organizations and coach all kinds of teams -- from the debate team to the basketball team and all sorts of sports and activities in between. They don't get the chance to daydream in front of their computers or to close their office doors to take a break. They are "on" all day in a very intense way, where their every comment or action reverberates in their classroom. Teaching is hard work.

Teachers appreciate students who are prepared to learn. A child or teenager who has not done his homework is often not able to fully access the lessons of the next day. Worse, a student who has not had a decent breakfast -- or possibly even a decent dinner the night before -- or who hasn't had a good night's sleep, can't be expected to concentrate properly on what is going on in class. This can be an issue for all kinds of families, and programs like school breakfasts can help. One teacher tells us that he keeps healthy granola bars and similar foods in his desk, since students are often hungry when they come to class and feeding them helps them pay attention. 

Teachers appreciate the benefit of the doubt. No, teachers are not perfect and there are plenty of times where they do or say something that is wrong. But they are usually right about what your child needs or does, and would appreciate being given the benefit of the doubt when your child comes home with a tale of woe.

Teachers appreciate a thank you. "There is nothing that touches my heart more than a note from a parent -- or a student -- thanking me for making a difference," one teacher told us. "I don't expect to be thanked, but it helps me remember why I went into teaching in the first place -- to make a difference in the lives of my students." So, take a moment this week to help a teacher be more effective and to share your appreciation for their important job.

Graphic used courtesy of

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