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appreciation starts with listening

Teacher Appreciation: Start with the Power of Listening

As historian Henry Adams put it, “A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.”

We all have that one teacher whose influence and inspiration left an indelible mark on our lives–whether he or she was aware of it or not. Personally, I can think of at least three educators who made a lasting impact on my life.

It can’t be understated: Our school teachers play a critical role in the health and future of our society. But that significance is often clouded by the political infighting and day-to-day grind that dogs our modern education system.

During special times of recognition, like Teacher Appreciation Week, students, parents, community members, and businesses show support for America’s educators. We fill social media with thank-you memes. Local and national businesses offer special deals on classroom supplies or free meals for teachers. And districts across the country celebrate the work of their teachers in assemblies, award ceremonies, and district newsletters.

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This is all great. A little appreciation goes a long way toward boosting teacher morale, especially as we approach the end of the school year. But this is also an opportunity to reset our thinking about the teaching profession–and to remember that for most teachers, education isn’t just something they do; it’s a calling.

Despite common misperceptions, teacher work days extend far beyond the  3 p.m. bell. When classes end, they meet with students and parents, grade papers, volunteer at school functions, and plan lessons. Summer “breaks” technically last three months, but most teachers only take a few weeks off. The other weeks are devoted to continuing education courses, planning the next year’s curriculum, or prepping classrooms for the year ahead. Often, the supplies teachers use in those classrooms are paid for out of their own pockets.

If engaging and inspiring students wasn’t difficult enough, today’s teachers face a gauntlet of new challenges. Technology is fundamentally shifting the nature of education. It’s also dramatically changing the role of the teacher and what they need to guide students.

Teachers continue to leave the profession at an alarming rate, and fewer college students are showing interest in education careers. The ones who remain face the unenviable prospect of growing class sizes and dwindling resources.

In several states, teachers have said “enough is enough.” The walkouts and rallies that have taken place in at least five states in recent weeks are proof that teachers are frustrated and want to be heard.

Pay played a large role in the protests in West Virginia, Arizona, Colorado, Kentucky and Oklahoma. But, at their core, those protests were about something more important than wages; they were about respect.

So, if you want to show appreciation for your local school staff, pat as many teachers on the back as you can; hold assemblies; hand out awards. But above all else, make sure you’re listening.

Teaching is one of the most important callings there is. But our teachers face significant challenges. If we want our teachers to continue to “affect eternity,” we need to listen and support them now.

What is your school or district doing this week to show appreciation for its teachers? Do your teachers have a means to speak up and be heard on the issues that matter to them? Tell us in the comments.