The Real Mr. Fitz: Teacher Appreciation Reconsidered                                                  

Teacher Appreciation Reconsidered

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 meanings. 

The first definition listed at is this: to be grateful or thankful for.

The third definition is this: to be fully conscious of; be aware of; detect.

I 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 appreciation.

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:

·       Dole out textbook chapters
·       Administer quizzes and tests from the textbook
·       Grade things, often with an automatic grader (Scantron)
·       Met out punishments and bad grades
·       Complain

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.

All 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.

The 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.

A 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 your creativity…”
I 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:

“Thank 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 class.”
That is teacher appreciation, both gratitude and awareness.

You don’t get it very often, but when you do… you appreciate it.