Archives For teacher Appreciation Week

Tributes for teachers during Teacher Appreciation Week are welcome coming just as the school year comes to a close when very tired teachers are looking back to see student progress over the past eight months. Many of the tributes are touching, and some are comical. Comedy was the intent of the The Late Show with David Letterman, when the producers invited ten (10)  Teach For America teachers to deliver Letterman’s Top Ten List. In introducing the selected ten teachers, Letterman prefaced the performance with his own tribute,

“My God! If there is a future, it is in the hands of our teachers doing thankless work day after day (APPLAUSE) …..and by the way thankless is the wrong word… we should be grateful, eternally grateful, for the work these people do…”

After his heart-felt introduction, each of the ten Teach for American teachers stepped forward to deliver one entry on the list:

The Top 10 Reasons I Decided to Become a Teacher

  • 10. I hope to live up to the teachers who inspired me. . .like Ms. What’s Her Name
  • 9. It’s no fun saying the Pledge of Allegiance every day by myself.
  • 8. Honestly, I didn’t pay much attention the first time through school.
  • 7. Kids need to know the moon landing was faked. 
  • 6. If I could make a difference in just one student’s life–well, that wouldn’t be a very good average. 
  • 5. The glamour. 
  • 4. You work long hours, but at least the pay is bad.
  • 3. Hoping to teach in an all song-and-dance high school, like on “Glee.” 
  • 2. In the summer, I can watch all you losers go to the office. 
  • 1. I want to help kids talk good. 

This very funny video was posted on the Teach for America website, listing participating teachers as members of the Class of ’13. Teach for America is a not for profit organization established in 1990 under a proposal by Wendy Kopp. The original objective is explained on their website:

We recruit a diverse group of leaders with a record of achievement who work to expand educational opportunity, starting by teaching for two years in a low-income community.                 

Teach for America sent 500 teachers to low-income schools in its first year. To date, over 33,000 have completed the program, however, Teach for America has come under some criticism for the “temporary” nature of the assignments. Two years of teaching is not enough, argued David Greene in an editorial featured in the New York Times (4/30/13),Invitation to a Dialogue: The Art of Teaching”:

Corps members should intern for a year under the supervision of a talented mentor teacher, then teach for at least four years, not two. That may discourage some. Good. We want career teachers. A “temp” work force does not improve education or erase the achievement gap. Rather it helps to create havoc in schools desperately trying to gain stability, a key factor in any school’s success.

Greene explained that he has served in the past as a mentor to Teach for America corps members, and that he has seen their “tears, anxieties, heartaches, successes and achievements.” He claims, however, that the preparation for these teachers now includes “simple, formulaic scripts” instead of letting these teachers be “creative, independent, spontaneous, practical and rule-bending.” He noted:

Scripts and rules and models strictly followed cannot replace what the best teachers have: practical wisdom. In our anti-teacher world and scripted teaching climate perpetuated by corporate reformers, what room is there for the teachers we want for our kids?

Greene cautioned that the today’s Teach for America has “morphed into more of a leadership institute”, with too little classroom experience to inform the members as they move quickly from the classroom into higher levels in education administration and in educational reform.

Letterman’s producers must be applauded for focusing attention on teachers during Teacher Appreciation Week, but in the future, they might consider a different group to represent teachers. Perhaps they could recruit seasoned veteran teachers who made this career choice, or if new teachers are what they want, they might look to spotlight new teachers who do not have the benefits of training and continuing support from Teach for America. Or, they might look to recruit the teacher described below in a letter published in the NYTimes written by Derl Clausen, a high school student, in a response to Greene’s editorial:

He walks in five minutes late to first period, half-shaven, cup of coffee in hand. He walks over to the white board, his stage, puts his coffee down, and looks into the eyes of every student. He’s not given the best students, and so his standardized test scores are average. Instead, they leave with something more; they leave inspired.

He tells them about life: the challenges, the problems, the reason he’s half-shaven. He turns “Romeo and Juliet” into a lesson on love, algebra into a philosophy discussion, and science into an art appreciation class. Vocabulary, equations and historical dates will enter and leave children’s memories, but the inspiration, motivation and wisdom that he gives them will remain throughout their lives.

It’s that teacher who is worth the five-minute wait, the smell of coffee — and if anyone questions his half-shaven beard, he’ll learn a whole lot more about life.

Clausen’s describes a teacher who goes “off script”, a teacher that fits Greene’s observation that, “Often it is the least orthodox teacher who most engages and excites students.” Clausen’s portrait could be a choice worth of a Top Ten List, or maybe even a guest appearance. Clausen and the half-shaved teacher as guests on The Late Show with David Letterman for Teacher Appreciation Week 2014? Not a satirical list, but one real teacher-student relationship as part of a Teacher Appreciation Week “Top Ten”.

Most stakeholders only have the experience of one point of view…from the student desk.

This coming week (May 7-11, 2012) is Teacher Appreciation Week. There will be the customary newspaper coverage of favorite teacher stories,  the hashtag #thankateacher will trend on Twitter, and celebrities will post videos thanking teachers as the most important influences in their lives. These are all wonderful and appropriate tributes to the profession that prepares our nation’s youth to become productive citizens.

But for the other 51 weeks of the year, the teaching profession is struggling under serious criticism. According to the National Education Association (NEA) website:

  • There are 3,232,813 teachers in K-12 public schools, and about 16 percent of these positions become vacant each year.
  • Forty-five percent of new teachers abandon the profession in their first five years.
  • More teachers believe collaborating with colleagues is essential to their work, but many districts still don’t provide time for teachers to learn, share and collaborate.
  • Teachers’ salaries still lag behind those for other occupations requiring a college degree, and the pay gap is growing larger.

The teaching profession dedicated to educating the nation has done a terrible job at self-promotion. Teachers today have failed to educate the public about the value of this great vocation in the same manner that they failed to teach the value of teaching to previous generations, most notably the parents and grandparents of students in schools today.  The result is that the very public that teachers need to enlist in support of the teaching profession is not confident in meeting the criticisms being leveled at educators today.

There is increasing negative political attention turned on the teaching profession. For example, in-between statements of  support for teachers, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie was quoted as saying, “They [teachers] only work 180 days,” voicing the popular perception that teachers work only part time.
Of course, there is evidence that counter his claims that teachers do not work that hard; the Wall Street Journal listed a series of facts about the teaching profession in the June 2011 article, Number of the Week: U.S. Teachers’ Hours Among World’s Longest:
  • U.S. educators work 1,097 hours teaching in the classroom, the most of any industrialized nation measured by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
  • American teachers work 1,913 hours a year, just shy of the U.S. average of 1,932 per year.
  • U.S. teachers are slightly more likely to work at home than private-sector workers, the U.S. Labor Department found. They aren’t paid to work weekends but are as likely to do so as private-sector employees — including those scheduled to work Saturdays and Sundays.
In my own state of Connecticut, during the February 2012 State of the State speech, Governor Dannel Malloy made a commitment to educational reform in one breath, and then slammed teachers and the practice of tenure in the next breath saying, “Basically the only thing you [teachers] have to do is show up for four years. Do that, and tenure is yours.” Not surprisingly, his educational  legislation promoting teacher evaluation reform is currently being met with serious resistance by the Connecticut State Teacher’s Union. Politics is polarizing the profession.
This negative attention is dangerous if schools are interested in attracting quality candidates to the teaching  profession. In his opinion piece in the 5/6/12 NYTimes “Teaching Me About Teaching” Charles M. Blow sounded this alarm pointing out,  “A big part of the problem is that teachers have been so maligned in the national debate that it’s hard to attract our best and brightest to see it as a viable and rewarding career choice, even if they have a high aptitude and natural gift for it.” His editorial was accompanied by statistics of the top tier college graduates who will not choose teaching for economic and social reasons; only 37% of responders believed a career in teaching is considered successful.
The irony is that for years teachers have not been effective advocates for their work. Teachers have demonstrated but not taught their students the rigors of teaching; the assumption is that the experience of being a student speaks for the entire profession. Certainly, all occupations have practitioners that can make work look easy to an uninformed public. Any product- a building, a meal, a vaccine, a championship trophy -cannot fully inform the public of the individual or collaborative preparation to make that product a reality. In addition, all work requires some level of training. Teachers study about their craft first at college and later implement these lessons in classrooms. However, the classroom is crucible, a brutal training ground that disputes the notion that “anyone can teach”  as almost half the nation’s new teachers vote for the profession with their feet, leaving within the first five years.

Being a student is only 1/2 of the educational relationship; teachers need to teach the significance of their role

For decades, K-12 teachers have collectively prepared students for careers in the sciences, in mathematics, in the arts, in the humanities, and in the industrial arts. Yet, in preparing students for careers beyond the classroom, there has been no direct instruction on the methodology on the craft of instruction for student learning. Consider how little students today understand about how much time and cognitive effort a teacher has to expend for each lesson plan. Day after day, period after period, students participate in an academic enterprise without acknowledging the multiple components that teachers have included in its construction: IEPs, multiple/emotional  intelligence strategies, Bloom’s levels of understanding, technology, curriculum content, available resources and facility limitations to name a few.
Teaching is challenging work, and in their commitment to provide the nation with all manner of numeracy and literacy skills, teachers have failed to express and assess student understanding of teaching. Students at all grade levels in public or private schools today have little understanding of the increasing demands of the teaching profession which now include incorporating Common Core State Standards, integrating technology for 21st Century Skills, and increasing scrutiny in newly designed evaluations. Ultimately, teachers have failed to communicate the significance of their contributions to a productive society that will result in recruiting the best and the brightest to the profession.
The public’s understanding of education often comes as a “recipient in the desk “point of view, not from the perspective of the teacher charged with engaging and educating every student. Unless the public is persuaded that teachers are critical for our democratic society, the profession will continue to suffer economically and socially. After basking in the attention from stories of the positive influence they have had on on the lives of individual students during Teacher Appreciation Week, teachers need to integrate one more lesson to their repertoire. How ironic that teachers must teach the significance of teaching.