How To Celebrate Teacher Appreciation Week

May 7, 2018

If you're reading this, show some appreciation for teachers.

This week is Teacher Appreciation Week. As the child of a teacher I remember the end of the school year...the best part of it was teaming up with mom's friend, Thelma, the school janitor. She'd go through the lockers at Piscataway High School and let me pick through the goodies students had left behind. That's how I got my very first pair of Converse sneakers. We couldn't afford brand-name anything, so it was great to have sneakers that weren’t from Kmart.

Though my mom had more education that most of the parents in Pine Grove Apartments, there wasn't much money separating our household from those families who were on public assistance. In the summer, when there was zero money coming in, we were grateful when the welfare families shared their government-issued cheese and peanut butter with us. Summer jobs were a must. From tagging clothes at a warehouse to working as a temp for an employment agency alongside college students, most of the jobs that would hire mom for the summer offered minimum wage pay. Her summer checks, coupled with the few bucks she’d socked away, was just enough to cover rent and day camp (child care). 

When we moved out of the low-income apartments, mom took a second job working with security guards at a department store. I was in high school by then. Thankfully, I was a pretty self-sufficient kid.  After getting home late 3-to-4 nights a week there wasn't time to go over my homework. Besides, she still had her own lessons to plan and papers to grade in addition to making dinner (Yes, many teachers are parents too). 

While most moms and dads are only concerned about the educational needs of their child, my mom was caring for and instructing about 150 children per day. Some of them weren't self-sufficient at all; some needed lots of additional attention. Each class had a combination of children with various combinations of the seven learning styles. Managing a class of immature humans with two dozen different personalities couldn’t have been easy, but it was the norm.

My mom taught French, Spanish, English as a Second Language (ESL) and Language Survey. She was an educator in Lorain, OH, Piscataway, NJ and retired from Columbus, OH public schools. There were kids from wealthy families in the suburbs to children from dirt poor Appalachian, Latino and African American homes. What did they have in common? They all came to school with issues. Parents demanded advanced work for their smart kids and special instruction for their kids who were struggling. Mom fulfilled their educational needs, and at times, their emotional needs as well. She kept baby wipes and snacks in her desk for kids who came to school dirty and/or hungry. She loved them all. She taught children things that their parents didn't have the ability, time, patience or money to teach them, because, that’s just what teachers do.

If your child learned anything this year, or ever, then you need to say “thank you.” 

A personal thank-you note or at the very least a quick e-mail expressing your gratitude is in order. Beyond that?  Our society can certainly do better when it comes to supporting education because we've put a lot on their plates. They're forced to put their students through grueling tests, knowing that they'll get blamed for the children who, for a multitude of reasons, are falling behind.

Schools are not immune to the issues that plague our society. Gun violence, addiction, poverty, neglect, abuse, chronic illness, mental illness...they teach through it. They do it while being held to personal and professional standards unmatched by most other industries. I don’t disagree with the need for high standards; I disagree with people who feel that teachers should settle for low pay because they aren’t qualified to do anything else.

I’m offended by people who assume that just because a teacher wants to leave the ranks of the working poor that she is “in it for the wrong reasons.” It's as if asking for a raise implies that these educators are seeking to exploit children.

Without these professional educators, the future of this nation looks bleak. We all need to look for ways to help. Here are just a few ideas:

  • Support teachers on a political level. If you think teachers deserve better pay and our school deserve better funding, write and/or call your legislators.
  • Re-enforce school lessons at home. Whether it’s turning in assignments on time or just being polite and waiting your turn, there are life lessons that your child is learning in school that will help make her a productive adult.
  • Contribute classroom materials instead of giving knickknacks.
  • Show up for school activities.
  • Volunteer at a school... ANY SCHOOL... even if your children are now adults or you don't have children.
  • Respect teachers. Why do some parents think it's okay to curse at teachers? Communicate your expectations and concerns in a way that doesn't alienate the man or woman who spends more waking hours with your child than you do on most days. Don’t trash the teacher in front of your child, ever.
  • Encourage other parents to use Teacher Appreciation Week as a launching point for developing stronger partnerships with teachers. Teachers are important role models and set the tone for a lifetime of learning.  If you believe children are the future, surely you believe that teachers are important and should be valued.