A few years ago, my daughter entered kindergarten. She came in knowing letters but that was about it. By the end of the year, she could put together entire words. She viewed language as a playground and reading as a chance to explore a whole world. I don’t completely understand the science of blending and phonics and sight words. But you do.

Miraculously, millions of students learn to read every day.

Because of a teacher.

And right now there’s a teacher thinking about his students. He’s dreaming of ways to make them feel more safe and welcome. For a few kids, this is the only place where they truly feel safe.

Because of a teacher.

There’s a language arts teacher who has taken a full week of her lunch period – those blessed 26 minutes to scarf down a meal – in order to help a student learn how to read. And although the progress is slow, he will become a reader.

Because of a teacher.

There’s a math teacher who has a room full of kids started the year saying that they’re “just not good at math.” But now they are geeking out over ways to solve complex problems. They are learning that math can be creative and even fun. And they will become problem-solvers.

Because of a teacher.

There’s a science teacher who inspires her students to chase after their questions and on one afternoon they were so excited about their experiments that they didn’t even notice the bell ring. They will become scientists . . .

Because of a teacher.

There are history teachers who inspire students to capture history and a group of PE teachers who will encourage kids to get more active and think about their health. There are technology teachers who will help kids send their work to the world and fine arts teachers who help kids find their creative voice. There are foreign language teachers who are helping kids communicate globally and CTE teachers who will help prepare kids for all kinds of jobs

There’s a special education teacher inspiring her kids to do things that once seemed impossible. She’s building partnerships with the families out of a belief that all children can learn.

And there’s this teacher librarian who will see the students as children and not data. He’s creating a makerspace while also inspiring kids to fall in love with reading. And they will become life-long learners . . .

Because of a teacher.

And right now, there’s a 4th-grade teacher with a scribbled up yellow legal pad. She’s dreaming up wild new projects. This is her 27th year and she’s still taking creative risks. To her, it’s no big deal. It’s what she does. But it’s a big deal to her students. To them, she is a hero. This year, she is making her students’ world epic, like she always does.

They will remember her forever and she will change the world in ways that she cannot even fathom.

And all of this will happen . . .

Because of a teacher.

So, if you’re a teacher, I just want to say thank you for all you do even when the job is challenging and exhausting. You’re making a huge difference. Every single day.

 

The Teacher Who Changed My World Forever

I’ve told this story before but it bears repeating. I had a teacher who changed my world forever.

When I was in the eighth grade, my entire goal was to go unnoticed. Fly under the radar. Keep away from the Cool Patrol (the people who ran the school social hierarchy). I had one friend, this kid named Matt, who I knew from church. We were two nerds in a pod. And, fortunately for me, he had perfect attendance year after year.

me in the 8th grade - instagram

So that was my system. Find one friend and hang out with him and fly under the radar. And it worked . . . until one day it didn’t. One afternoon, he was gone from school. Nothing serious. He had a cold. But I remember looking out at the sea of students and thinking, “I hope one person invites me to the table.” It didn’t happen. I tossed my food in the trash and hid out in the restroom (which was nasty because the boys’ restroom was like a little patch of the third world in our fancy first world school).

But here’s the thing. My plan had worked. Nobody had noticed me. And it felt horrible.

Despite all of this, I had two teachers, Mrs. Smoot and Mr. Darrow, who saw me as a person. They knew that I cared about social justice and baseball and history, so they invited me to do a History Day project.

Everything about it felt terrifying. I had to plan the entire project and track my own progress. I had to figure out what questions to ask and where to find the answers. I had to narrow down my topic to something I cared about — in this case, Jackie Robinson and the integration of baseball.

None of this was terrifying. It was more overwhelming than anything. The terrifying part happened when I wrote letters to newscasters and made phone calls to former players. I remember picking up the phone, my hands trembling, as I read aloud my pre-recorded script and waited for the stranger to respond. I eventually worked on a slide presentation (back in the day when you had to take pictures and go to the drug store to have them converted into little plastic slides).

However, the most nerve-wracking moment occurred when I sat in a radio studio recording my script. I would play the giant magnetic tape back and use a razor to cut it and Scotch tape to splice it together. I listened to my voice and hated it.

At one point, I threw my hands up in the air. “I’m not doing this,” I said.

But Mrs. Smoot looked me in the eyes and said, “I’m not going to let you get away with that. Your voice is good. What you say matters. And when you hide your voice, you rob the world of your creativity.”

That moment stuck with me forever. That’s what gave me creative confidence. It wasn’t just the moment, though. It was the entire project, including the diverse perspectives I got from interviewing dozens of former Negro League players. I began to see the power of making and sharing. And I was forever changed as a person — not because of project-based learning but because of a teacher who saw something in me that I couldn’t see in myself.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but she was the reason I became a teacher.

 

Seven Ways to Appreciate Teachers

I spent twelve years teaching middle school and often felt beat down by public perception. I’d hear politicians railing about teacher salaries and off-handed comments about our “part-time work.” I’d clench my fist and smile when people said, “Must be nice to have summers off.” I’d read articles about the plague of “bad teachers” and wonder why we weren’t telling stories celebrating the amazing teachers.

But I also realized that nearly every person I knew had that “Mrs. Smoot” who changed their world forever. Which has me thinking . . . what are some practical ways we can appreciate teachers? Here are a few ideas.

  1. Respect their autonomy. Allow teachers to make key curricular decisions. If you’re a leader, please realize that being an “instructional leader” isn’t about setting the vision for the school. It’s about empowering teachers through shared leadership.
  2. Thank them. Send an email to your child’s teachers letting them know their impact. Track down your former teachers letting them know how you are doing. Last year, I received a private Facebook message from a former student. She sent a picture of a paper she wrote. It was a rough draft before a blog post. I’d written, “you are a gifted writer. I hope you realize the power of your voice.” She then described the verbal abuse she had faced  at home and wrote, “You believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself.” I needed that. Because it’s way too easy for me to remember those cringe-worthy moments when I yelled at a class or shamed a student or taught a boring lesson.
  3. Provide a service. I once had this principal, we’ll call him Richard (because that’s his name), and he and the assistant principal covered every teachers’ class an hour after their lunch and allowed us all to take a 90-minute lunch during Teacher Appreciation Week. It was a powerful statement of how much he cared about us. On a side note, I know that principals have a thankless, extremely challenging job. I don’t think we give them enough props for what they do.
  4. Send them a small gift. Find out what snack they like and bring it in. Get them a small gift card. I still remember a time when a parent brought in tamales she’d made for me on Teacher Appreciation Week. I knew that they had taken hours to make, which made the gift all the more special.
  5. Brag about them. Send an email to the district office or the principal mentioning how awesome they are. If you’re a parent or guardian, mention a  specific project, strategy, or moment that impressed you. If you’re a teacher, brag about something cool that a colleague did. This not only allows leaders to see how awesome a teacher is but it also provides a bright spot for leaders when they are inundated with complaints.
  6. Donate classroom supplies. Or better yet, gift cards. Teachers spend a wild amount of money on their classrooms. When I taught middle school, I was always thankful for friends and family who bought classroom supplies for me. Every year, my mom would show up with reams of paper and pencils and Mr. Sketch markers (which are still awesome, even when you’re a grown-up). Which leads to the next item . . .
  7. Fully fund public education. Class size matters. Instructional aides matter. Resources matter. If you want teachers to feel appreciated, make sure they are paid well and have the resources they need.
  8. Seek out their expertise. If you’re running a conference, be sure to get actual current classroom teachers on the panels. Find opportunities for classroom teachers to do sessions and keynotes.

Looking for more? Check this out.

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