The Sort-of-Scientific Method

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
May 07 2013

Some Teacher Appreciation Thoughts

Day 148: It’s teacher appreciation week, which is, all told, a pretty sweet week. Yesterday, one of our parents made a ton of Ethopian food, including beef and split lentils, and left a huge spread in the teacher’s lounge. I may or may not have had thirds. And I may or may not have had croissants and a cookie that another parent brought, too.

I love the spirit of teacher appreciation week. I work hard at one of the most incredibly important jobs on Earth, preparing young people – and specifically low-income young people – to have successful lives. Teacher appreciation week is society telling me that I’m valuable, even a hero – validation that can feel conspicuously absent most of the time.

However, here’s a thought: Shouldn’t teaching, ideally, just be a regular job? Today, for example, made teaching feel like a regular job. I came to work a little tired. I did my job, delivering the lessons I’d planned last weekend and last night. Kids came in and did their jobs, listening to me go on about ecology, habitats and biotic factors. By and large, everything went smoothly, with a small handful of warnings and consequences thrown in amongst the rewards and praise.

Some days, I feel like the achievement gap is closing in front of me. Today was not one of those days. Nothing bad happened, but nothing amazing happened, either. If you’d asked any of my students what they’d learned today, they’d probably be able to tell you that a biotic factor is living, an abiotic factor is not living, a log is a tricky example because it used to be living but now it’s not, and that habitats are made of both biotic and abiotic factors. This is foundational stuff in ecology, and as such is pretty important, but my kids aren’t getting into Yale tomorrow because of it.

I worry that, too often, we substitute abstract compensation for more tangible benefits when it comes to teaching. Yes, it’s nice to be valued for a week. But I’d really like to see teachers valued through higher pay, more effective professional development, and connection to robust networks of follow professionals. Above all, I’d like to see teachers valued for being hardworking professionals who achieve amazing outcomes, and not viewed as lower-tier quasi-professionals who do cute things like save kittens from trees.

Again, I love the spirit of teacher appreciation week. My most heartfelt thanks go out to the parents who brought food this week, and to the family kind enough of give me an Amazon gift card yesterday. My job is hard, and I appreciate that someone is thinking of me and my efforts. But someday, I’d like to see teachers valued – really valued – as professionals the same way doctors, lawyers and bankers are.

For now, though, I’m off to get a free burrito at Chipotle.

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