By Bill Henk – National Teacher Appreciation Day rolled around again this past Tuesday, just as it does every other year.
It came and went with little public attention. No hoopla. No fanfare. No fuss. No pomp. No circumstance.
A little blip on the radar screen. If that.
In fact, all of National Teacher Appreciation Week so far hasn’t fared any better.
Such is the life of teachers in America. It’s not like that everywhere. In the countries that enjoy international acclaim for their educational systems, teaching is a revered profession. That’s not a coincidence in my view. Instead, back in the good old U. S. of A, teachers might rightfully lament, like the late comedian Rodney Dangerfield, “I don’t get no respect. No respect at all.”
And that’s at the heart of my question about what’s wrong with national teacher appreciation. My answer is short and sweet – it’s not nearly enough. Not a day or a week or a month or a year or a decade of appreciation suffices. We should honor teachers every day, every week, every month, every year – in perpetuity.
By contrast, nationally and within our own state, teachers have had to endure public vilification the past few years. The media and others with reform agendas of questionable motivation and merit have portrayed teachers as inept, uncaring, lazy, and greedy. One major result has been that significantly fewer young people of extraordinary promise choose teaching as a profession. Why would they? After all, they have options with far more earning potential, where they can enjoy some measure of — you guessed it – respect.
Advocating For Teachers
Recognizing that harsh reality, the Metropolitan Milwaukee Area Deans of Education (MMADE), a group I currently co-chair, decided to do its part in affirming teachers. In our experience, the overwhelming majority of them aren’t anything at all like the way they’ve been depicted. The teachers we know are smart, talented, dedicated, capable, passionate, caring, and hard-working educators. Consequently, we felt that it was high time for someone else, especially a group like ours, to stand up for them. They clearly deserve our respect and advocacy.
As a result, next year we will be hosting a special event on October 17th at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee called “Celebrating Teachers and Teaching.” We plan to make this gala an annual event. This year’s theme is urban education. Next year the event will be held at Alverno College with the theme of servant leadership, and then it will come to Marquette as a celebration of literacy.
In subsequent years all of our member institutions, a group that includes Cardinal Stritch University, Carroll University, Concordia University, MATC, Mount Mary College, and Wisconsin Lutheran College, will proudly take their turn hosting. Among other things, attendees can expect an engaging keynote speaker and remarks from other local celebrities and dignitaries.
At the heart of the program will be teaching awards that honor graduates of our licensure programs at our institutions. We will be giving one award to an early career teacher and five awards to those who are more experienced. Each year we will seek nominations for candidates who graduated from our teacher preparation programs or completed licensure programs through those programs, and who teach in the metropolitan Milwaukee area. We completed this first year’s solicitation recently by casting a wide net, which produced several nominations. Now we look forward to the review process unfolding.
A Personal Wake-Up Call for Advoacy
Shifting gears to a personal and related note on teacher appreciation, I was squarely reminded last week of just how hard it is to be a teacher. I volunteered to spend all of last Friday helping out at my daughter’s Catholic school (St. Mary’s in Hales Corners), and most of my service occurred in her first grade classroom. I volunteered last year, too, and came home exhausted. But I thought that was because I did a fair amount of atypical physical labor – mostly lugging library books from the first to the second floor, spending a lot of time on my feet doing bus and recess duty in the playground area, cleaning tables in the cafeteria, going up and down steps making deliveries– that kind of thing.
This year was different. Audrey’s teacher, Ms. Cimpl, knew about my educational background and decided to put me to work doing — of all things — teaching. The expectations were modest, and I welcomed them. I read books to the kids, gave the spelling test, circulated to check their work, and did an honest-to-goodness lesson on nouns and adjectives. Although I loved feeling my old teaching juices flowing and my once well-heeled instructional instincts kicking in, I felt the stress of everything I had to do to keep 27 precious first graders, with an endless supply of energy, engaged in their learning.
And guess what? I went home twice as exhausted as last year!
So what should your takeaway about teacher appreciation be from this post? Although it’s definintely been too little, it’s NOT TOO LATE. Celebrate teachers!