Monday, May 5, 2008

True Teacher Appreciation

Teacher appreciation day is celebrated at roughly the same time of year in South Korea as it is here. When I taught in Seoul in 1997-98 I experienced the most lavish teacher appreciation day ever. By the end of the day I had more candy, make-up, lovely hankies, homemade jewelry and pillows than I knew what to do with. Despite my luggage restrictions however, at the end of my teaching experience there everything I couldn't eat made it home with me.

I found myself wondering if Teacher Appreciation Day could ever be that way in the United States, and if it could, would I want it to be?

Having had the opportunity to attend a few recognition and retirement dinners, I have heard 2 things over and over from retiring teachers. First, that those notes and mementos we get from students are often the only things we pack up and take home at the end of our careers, and second that the best appreciation gift we could get would be respect for what it takes to dedicate your life to teaching.

Over the years it is obvious that there are students we connect with, students who found us valuable. The notes they grace us with make it obvious that our students don't necessarily care when Teacher Appreciation Day falls on the calendar. In fact, it is often the extemporaneous, impetuous thank you that brings us to tears.

I am determined to see true teacher appreciation recognized someday in policy. It seems I can come up with a laundry list of how NOT to feel appreciated: PLCs prescribed to the minute, administrators who announce to a specific teacher at a staff meeting "You do know the voluntary transfer pool is open, don't you?", a promising statewide insurance pool idea stuck in neutral at the state capitol, jaw-dropping-eye-popping-hip-hopping-technology expectations that aren't paid for, and more mandates for license renewal yet more back doors into the profession.

I am thankful for that drawer full of notes, the homemade jewelry, and such. Those messages, especially, can do wonders at the end of a day filled with standardized tests, stolen computers, and stink-eyes. But it is time for a more vocal and permanent message that will endure in this profession long after we have taken our notes home with us and our profession is inherited by the next wave of bright and brave souls.

It is time for that message of respect.

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