“Went to school and I was very nervous
No one knew me, no one knew me
Hello, teacher! Tell me, what’s my lesson?
Look right through me, look right through me.”– Roland Orzabal
This week is teacher’s appreciation week. I know a lot of these things get lost in the hustle and bustle of secretary’s day, librarian’s week, counselor’s week, engineer’s week, mother’s day, father’s day, Arbor Day, Okay, I was getting a little carried away on the last one.
Basically, every profession seems to have either a day or a week dedicated to its appreciation. While it is important to appreciate everyone, by the time you get through it all you end up getting the equivalent of the assistant manager’s day sale at Foley’s. It ends up being a little much and it’s hard to hear someone mention a once a year sale that happens every other week.
So, I get the fatigue. Certainly, not everyone has a good teacher for their child either. In an honest moment I would admit there have been years where I have been more effective than others. Sometimes it was just my own inexperience. Sometimes my administrators put me in positions where I was going to struggle to succeed. Sometimes I just didn’t do as good a job as I could. Then, there were years I was on my game.
People occasionally ask us what we would want for teacher appreciation week. This largely depends on which teachers you ask. If I get more than a single gift from a parent or student it has been a banner year. That is just what happens with high school teachers. Elementary teachers are much more involved with each individual student, so the bonanza they get is kind of the trade off we get.
This is more of a look at what teachers want universally. Little gifts are nice and I certainly wouldn’t turn them down, but for individual teachers it is so hard. I don’t drink coffee, so Starbuck’s cards go directly to my wife. She certainly feels appreciated. Everyone likes Chick Fa La unless you are a vegetarian or vegan. In each and every case it is the thought that counts.
I have worked for thoughtful administrative teams and teams that weren’t as thoughtful. In general they seem to think if they let us wear jeans they are golden. Occasionally if they feed us then we are that much happier. The truth is that it is far more important what happens the other 35 weeks of the year. I have a simple list.
Treat Us Like Adults
I have always marveled at the difference between how my wife has been treated at work and how I have been treated at most of the places I have taught. If they need to go to the doctor or run an errand there are no issues. I have worked at places that made me bring in a doctor’s note when I missed. They flip out if you have to leave occasionally to run an errand.
Some of that is by design. You can’t leave students unattended or shirk a duty, but in general you can get by handling adults the way other businesses handle adults. If someone is not handling their responsibilities you deal with them individually. Collective discipline for the actions of a few or one is really annoying.
It’s not all about the money
Everyone loves to talk about how underpaid teachers are. I’m not necessarily on the pay train. My salary has nearly tripled since I began teaching. A part of that is because I have gone on and gotten a master’s degree. A part of that is because I get a small stipend for teaching special education. I’m also keenly aware that some districts don’t pay their teachers nearly enough.
I taught in an urban district my first year. The teacher association fought for higher salaries even though we were the highest paid teachers in the area. They noted that teachers talked with their feet. Somehow the math never worked out. They continued to beat the drum for more money. Somehow I don’t think that was it.
It is difficult to know you are getting the exact same amount as the jackass that is the last one in and first one out the door, but there might be people saying the same about me. Education has tried performance pay numerous times and it’s just hard to do. We know who’s good at their jobs and who isn’t, but there is not an accepted empirical way to measure that.
Enough with the testing
I don’t think people that work outside of education really get how much testing eats into our schedule. We have five STAAR tests we give at the high school level. School virtually shuts down on those days. That’s one less week of instruction. Add to that the PSAT, SAT, TSIA, and AP exams and you are probably talking about another week.
Then, you get the benchmarks and mock exams. You take a benchmark every six weeks and a mock exam for each of the tests as well. With the pandemic we ended up having the students stay home that weren’t participating. So, you essentially cut out three to four weeks of instruction just with testing.
We can ignore for the time being whether testing really tests for what it should. If you add the time teachers spend preparing for the tests you are losing maybe as much as a fifth of the year directly preparing for the test or taking the tests and practice tests. So, what exactly are we doing?