Monday, May 5, 2008

What Passes for Teacher Appreciation

When I found a copy of a catalog from a company called Positive Promotions focusing on Teacher Appreciation Week (the first week of May), and I got to thinking about what passes for teacher appreciation these days. Apparently, it's tchotchkes--36 pages of useless, low-quality knick-knacks brandishing feel-good slogans:
  • Behind every great school is a great staff!
  • Teachers change the world one child at a time!
  • We [heart] our teachers!
  • Together we make a difference!
  • You can do it!
Every teacher on the planet, from every grade level, has desks/boxes/closets full of this stuff. It takes the form of mugs, tote bags, notepads, lunch bags, pens, and numerous other items I can only describe as grade-A crap. My school actually gave me an umbrella and a scarf last year, despite the fact that it almost never rains here and temperatures rarely drop below 50. I already received the first such item on Monday: a combination pen/laser pointer. What would I have done without this? This is the same kind of crap you get at professional development workshops hosted by companies trying to bilk your district out of thousands of dollars.

Looking through this catalog, I can tell you I want nothing in it. I can also safely assume that the vast majority of teachers want nothing from this catalog either. I hope that any administrators that may be reading this understand that showing your teachers how much you appreciate them is not something that can be summed up in a slogan on a mug.

Thus the question becomes, what does real teacher appreciation look like?

The NEA conducted a poll last year and found teachers appreciate a simple "thank you" more than most other forms of appreciation. Hearing "thank you" in various forms from my administration, department and most importantly my students is the reason I get up and go to school in the morning. I can never hear it enough.

I don't know about you, but most teachers I know appreciate being treated to breakfast or lunch. Many of us eat little or nothing for one or both meals due to time constraints or a relentless work ethic. Even if we do have something to eat, it's a nice break from the routine, especially if we don't have the opportunity to go out to eat at all.

Administrators and department chairs can show their appreciation by providing opportunities for teacher participation in the decision-making process, thoughtfully considering their input, and acknowledging their ideas to the department, whole faculty, or district officials. Our students like it when you "brag on" them, teachers are no different. There's a reason teacher-led schools (i.e. the law firm model) are growing exponentially and showing promising results.

Most importantly, our time must be respected. This statement has many meanings:
  • give us as much uninterrupted instructional time as possible
  • don't waste our time with pointless faculty meetings (meetings are for things that require discussion and debate, not for things that could be written in an email or paper memo)
  • don't bury us in redundant paperwork
  • let us have actual lesson planning time during planning periods
  • before you schedule something on weekends, before and after school, or during breaks, discuss it with us first!
There you have it. Besides the food, all of these options are free, and all of them are more effective than tchotchkes. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go play with my laser pointer.