Teacher Appreciation? Yeah, It’s a Thing.

Every year during the month of May, our nation sets aside an entire week for the sole purpose of extolling our country’s educators: Teacher Appreciation Week. Being an educator myself, I have, over the years, been the recipient of many tokens of appreciation during this celebratory week: breakfast spreads in the library, “Payday” candy bars in my school mailbox, lunches delivered to my classroom door, duty-free lunch periods, verbal shout-outs from district leaders and school administrators, and trinkets, coffee mugs, baked goods, and handwritten notes from parents and students alike. I am thankful for all of the ways I’ve been an appreciated educator throughout my career. It’s nice to be appreciated.

In my current role at A+ College Ready, I am assigned to assist and mentor teachers across the great state of Alabama by designing engaging professional development opportunities, developing sound curricula, providing teaching resources, and forging relationships that often reach outside the classroom walls. Because of my twenty-year tenure as a classroom teacher and my now five-year stint in the aforementioned position, I feel I can share with confidence three simple ways we can truly thank our educators:

1. Teachers Deserve Respect. Whether (in your opinion) the worst or the best your child has, the teacher deserves your respect. Teachers work hard all year long with a variety of challenges: from planning lessons, to attending faculty meetings, to handling discipline issues, to calling parents, to grading papers, to volunteering (or volun-tolding) after hours for school teams, clubs, or events, to integrating technology, to working with the actual students concerning the actual content! Yes, teachers have a proverbial plate that is overfilled. But they do the job – the best they can. And for that, they deserve our respect.

2. Teachers Deserve Empathy. The word empathy literally means to understand and share how someone else feels. Unless you are an educator, this hasn’t been possible – until now. When Covid-19 restrictions set in, virtually (pun intended) making every parent a homeschool teacher, empathy for educators finally became a possibility! Parents and guardians everywhere have now had a small taste of what it is like to walk a mile in a teacher’s shoes. Teachers simply need the rest of the world to acknowledge and understand the challenges they face and to share in both the joys and the frustrations they feel. This may be one good thing that comes from the current pandemic — a new empathy for our educators.

3. Teachers Deserve Encouragement. At the end of the day, teachers are people, too, and they deserve to be encouraged. Kind words can go a long way. The truth is that teachers don’t always get a lot of encouragement, unless it is from each other. The job we have entrusted to them is one of great importance; however, none of us can thrive if we are constantly asked to pour from ourselves into others but never have our own tanks refilled. As stressful as the current circumstances are on those who are now forced to do school at home, the stress is no less for teachers, many of whom are figuring out virtual learning on the fly! Let’s all try a little harder to just be kind to our educators, offering words of praise or encouragement to help them along, both now and in perpetuity.

While I’m at it, let me say a few words about the teachers here in Alabama. I hear from them through emails, text messages, and phone calls. I run into them (six feet apart, of course!) when I pick up my groceries. Heck, my husband is even one of them!

Y’all. These people are rock stars! They have taken on this new challenge of virtual school, and they are doing it! Are they struggling sometimes? Yes. Are they frustrated? Yes. Are they tired? Oh, yes. But they are teachers, and this is what teachers do — they figure it out and they get the job done.

So send them a trinket or a gift card or a note. Provide them with lunch or a “Payday” or an extra break. But right now, and more than ever, they need our encouragement. And when “normal” school returns, we all need to remember to empathize with them and pay them the respect of which they are so deserving.

I’m thankful to still work in the field of education. In fact, I wouldn’t trade a single second of the years I spent as a teacher in the classroom with my students. But, oh, how thankful I am to be in my current role so that I can cheer on and support educators who truly do make a difference in the lives of children all across our state.

In many ways, they help make all of our lives worth the living!