Teacher Appreciation Week is almost here. This year, it lasts from Sunday, May 6th through Saturday, May 12th. In fact, this will be my 18th Teacher Appreciation Week. I’ve been teaching in Sonoma County schools for over 17 years now. For the last decade, I’ve taught and been a parent, as well as served as Negotiations Chair for the educators at Oak Grove Union School District. Most days, I look around at what teachers do in awe. What we do as educators is inspiring. In fact, it’s nearly superhuman. And we do it every day, every year for so little money that most of us work two and three jobs to allow us to continue.
Here is just a snapshot of the last month at our school:
• 150 8th graders went to the Exploratorium, where they investigated science themes in light, motion, and shape.
• We celebrated International Day of the Woman by studying prison reform, women’s rights, and abolition. We then comparatively looked at how those issues have progressed today.
• Language Arts classes had the poet laureate of Sonoma County as a guest teacher, and a book talk about the Japanese novel, Up From the Sea by the author Leza Lowitz.
• We celebrated Pi day in Math where activities, games, prizes, and all kinds of numbered fun ensued.
• The 6th graders made mythical Hydras out of the stuff laying around their homes and enjoyed a virtual trip to the Silk Road in Ancient China.
• Over Spring Break, I took 45 students and parents to Washington D.C. to see the rooms where history happened.
This is the fun part of teaching, but there are also scary parts.
A few weeks ago, our school was put on lockdown due to a threat where a student wrote that he was going to “kill everyone.” It was my job to walk to classrooms, gathering students and taking them to where their parents were waiting in the library. I stood there, looking at the beauty of our campus with its wildflowers, murals, and a 200-year-old oak tree, knowing that this job might cost me my life.
It might cost my children their mama. My students might lose their favorite history teacher. Still, my colleagues and I stood out in the open, making sure our students got back to their families, calm, collected, and courageous.
How can you, our community, show teachers that you value what we do for your children?
I’ve been thinking, talking, and sometimes ranting about this for a long time. As Teacher Appreciation Week approaches, thoughtful parents and students will be gathering spring’s first flowers, drawing red apples, and purchasing gift cards from Starbucks and fair trade chocolate from Trader Joe’s. A few blessed families will even buy us gift certificates for pedicures and massages, or a case of excellent Pinot. But, I find myself wondering what teachers would honestly say if asked what they want (what they really, really want) from the community for Teacher Appreciation Week.
What I really want for Teacher Appreciation Week:
> From parents:
Talk to your children every day. Hug them. Create a relationship based on honesty and respect. Go on a date with them and listen. Give them firm boundaries, bedtimes, and high expectations for academics and behavior. Take away their privileges when they don’t meet your expectations. Do your best to feed them healthy food. Know what’s on your child’s social media account, and take away their phone at dinner and bedtime. And despite the hectic mornings, do all you can to get them to school on time.
I know how hard all of this is, as I’ve struggled with all these things myself. But who else can prepare our children to care for themselves and (someday) for their own children? We have to up our game. The mental, physical, and emotional wellbeing of our children must be on us, their parents.
> From grandparents, empty nesters, and those without children:
Attend board meetings and push them to support schools, as well as champion teachers! Run for open board seats and become the board members who have the ear and heart of teachers. Write editorials to the newspapers pushing for salaries and benefits that allow us to live in the districts we serve. Help us fundraise for our arts and enrichment programs. Spend time with children who have no one to read to or with. Volunteer for our field trips and event days, or come hear our concerts and see our performances. You have extra time that those of us with young children just don’t have right now. Volunteering is fun and studies have shown that it will improve your health!
> From everyone:
Please vote and become politically active! We need to galvanize our county, state, and country to stand up for education. Stop policies that threaten to destabilize, defund, and disrupt public schools. Likewise, campaign for politicians who believe in public education. Our community benefits from education in multiple ways, and we are preparing the child that will become your doctor, farmer, mayor, contractor, firefighter, and (most importantly) the scientist who will find the cure for cancer.
Help us receive what we need to provide a quality education to all children!
Teaching is our profession, and schools are a workplace for educators. However, they are also the heart of our villages, where we care for children like they are our own. We’re not perfect, and we’ll continue to adapt and work to improve. But we need you to have our backs, too. What we do as educators is challenging and excellent work. We need our community to do more than appreciate it. What we really want is for you to actively engage in supporting it.
All that being said – of course I wouldn’t turn down a Starbucks card, pedicure, or a good bottle of Pinot for Teacher Appreciation Week.