I'm a little late on this post for Teacher Appreciation Week this
year, but I've been thinking about this topic all week, and finally have a moment to
write it down.
I did get some delightful Teacher
Appreciation gifts and messages of thanks this week from some of my students,
past and present, and that's a good thing from my perspective. But I began to
think about the fact that the word appreciate actually has several different
The first definition listed at
Dictionary.com is this: tobegratefulorthankfulfor.
The third definition is
think we have a lot of the first kind of teacher appreciation going on, the
gratitude kind, much of it sincere, much of it lip service.
Because without the
second kind of appreciation, you don't really even know what you're thanking me
for. I truly believe that many of the people who give lip service to
"Teacher Appreciation Week" - politicians, many school board members,
some administrators, some parents, and much of the general public - may say
they appreciate what teachers do in the first sense without being at all
"conscious" or "aware of" what teachers actually do. And
of course, the Teacher Haters, those comment-section gremlins who hate all
teachers with the heat of a thousand suns, certainly have neither form of
I guess I feel that the third definition of
appreciate - being fully conscious and
aware of something – matters, because it has to do with not only the public
perception of teachers, but the way teachers are defined.
I think some people don’t feel much need to appreciate
teachers in any sense because here is what they think teachers do:
out textbook chapters
quizzes and tests from the textbook
things, often with an automatic grader (Scantron)
out punishments and bad grades
I will grant you, of course, that there are probably millions of teachers out there who
treat teaching as a job, not a career and a calling, and who do nothing more
than the things I just listed. But if you find that list appalling, here is what
you are not… appreciating. The system is being rigged to favor teachers who do
just those things and nothing more. The system, as I have written elsewhere, favors obedient, compliant, unthinking teachers over teachers who actually think for themselves, innovate, and show creativity in the classroom..
Fortunately for me, I have met people at almost
every level who do truly appreciate, in both senses of the word, what I do. I’ve
had a school board member sit in on my lessons for “Harrison Bergeron” and the
Holocaust memoir The Sunflower and participate. I have administrators
who have visited my class just to see a really engaging, thought provoking
activity going on. I have had other teachers tell me how they’ve used ideas
from my Scholastic books in their classes to great effect. I’ve had wonderful
comments from parents who told me what my class was doing for their children.
of these people truly appreciate what I do, and their gratitude is greatly
enhanced because of their awareness of what I am actually doing in class. I
have, of course, met people from all the above groups who didn’t appreciate
what I do on either level. The one group I don’t think has ever, ever shown the
slightest bit of appreciation in the “awareness” sense is politicians. They
think our only job is to be “Quantitative Learning Gains Facilitators.”
Interestingly, those of us that actually do get the almighty scores they claim
to want never hear a word of praise about it.
best appreciation of all, though, comes from students. Of course many students
never appreciate any class; many don’t appreciate mine in particular, at least not while they're in it. But some
do, and their appreciation-gratitude is the best because they also have appreciation-awareness.
recent note from a former student graduating college: “I know I would not be
where I am today without you…Thank you for being so influential. Thank you for
had a recent Facebook conversation with a former student who is thinking of
going into teaching. I tried to be honest about the profession without
discouraging him. Some of his comments:
you so much! I've talked to several other teachers this year as I've explored
my options, and none of them have said that they dislike their job... Not to
denounce your opinion. While this may sound... Cheesy(?), you were and always
have been my favorite teacher, so I value your words a bit more than others... The
work we did in your class always seemed to have, well, a purpose… The funny
thing about a lot of your teaching methods is that I didn't even realize the
point of a lot of them until several years later when I decided to pick up
reading again. ...I finally started to understand some of the ideas that were
being (for lack of a better phrase) thrown around in your class... Reading, to
me, is one of the best things anyone can do for themselves to better understand
themselves and the world around them, and I suppose I never would have really
understood that without being a part of your class. I found that reading on my
own and seeking understanding through literature would only come through
introspection inspired by the words of people much more cultured and
experienced than me, and I can only really attribute this understanding to your
is teacher appreciation, both gratitude and awareness.
don’t get it very often, but when you do… you appreciate it.