CLOSING THOUGHTS ON TEACHER APPRECIATION

“Some people are pretty good at hiding who they really are.”
Holly Jackson, Good Girl, Bad Blood

 

Today concludes Teacher Appreciation Week. Every year I swear I’m going to just politely smile and nod through it. Focus on the kind notes and small tokens of appreciation that teachers receive throughout the week. Small as some of these gestures may appear, they serve as a literal lifeline to many educators. A much-needed reminder of why they do the work they are committed to.

People’s kindness and thoughtfulness should never go unrecognized. But while acknowledging the aforementioned, invariably, by the end of the week I’m pissed and I end up not holding my tongue. This year, alas, is no exception.

As the spouse of a teacher, I am provided a front seat to it all, l and have witnessed the impact of the job firsthand. For those of you who like data, being married for 17 years and her teaching for 15 of those years, gives me access to a whole lot of data about the effects of the teaching profession. While as a family, we have a very strict policy separating church and state, I can’t help but make observations. And boy do I have some of those.

I can tell you with complete certainty, that the profession continually becomes less about teaching and more about child management, with expectations growing exponentially every year. To the point where we have reached a tipping point, leaving us in a  position where the profession is no longer tenable, and without sounding hyperbolic, leaving us at a crisis point. But is anybody listening?

It doesn’t appear so, we are still trying to fill a leaky bucket by turning up the faucet. For example, MNPS announced this week that they are holding a …wait for it…job fair. So attrition rates are up and enrollment in teacher prep programs is down, and the best we got is a job fair. The only purpose a job fair serves at this juncture is to provide an opportunity to say, “Hey, we are trying.” It’s past time to get more creative.

My biggest failing over the last few years has been my inability to adequately convey the severity of conditions faced daily by teachers, in a manner that can be easily grasped by those not directly involved in public education. It’s very much become an “if you know, you know” situation, at a time when we need those that don’t know to know. The pressure has reached a point where it’s simply unsustainable and it’s having real-world consequences on real people, and that should not be permissible.

Some have utilized controversy over “don’t say gay” laws and those that address “critical race theory” as primary culprits for increased teacher stress, using these circumstances as an opportunity to take shots at political opponents. While I don’t dismiss the impact of these two, let’s not forget that teachers are also accused of not knowing how to properly teach reading. For every accusation of teachers indoctrinating students, there is an equal accusation of them being subject to implied bias. There is really no winning here.

Let’s not forget that ever-increasingly permissive discipline policies have put teachers at greater and greater physical risk.

District and state officials continue to fail to acknowledge mistakes made during the pandemic while demanding teachers make up in a year for opportunities lost in the past two. All before the effects of the pandemic have been completely diagnosed.

Let’s not forget that teachers are being forced to do more activities like checking in with student families in an effort to ensure their social and emotional health while being told they need additional training in SEL and equity. MNPS has an upcoming multiple-day training on equity scheduled for next month. I’m sure that’ll work out well.

This week we are singing teacher praises, and recognizing their unique skills, while the other 51 weeks are spent stripping teacher judgment out of the equation. It’s like the cheating spouse coming home with flowers on Monday, in an effort to make up for a weekend spent out being unfaithful.

We demand that teachers increase student performance, yet at the same time we expect them to devote time to assigning more responsibility to duties outside of direct instruction. We expect them to spend extra hours before and after school monitoring buses. We expect planning hours to be sacrificed to focus on discipline issues and monitor lunchrooms. Teaching children the standards is no longer enough, teachers are expected to be parents, friends, therapists, mentors, counselors, advocates, mental health experts, financial helpers, and so much more to students.

Where does it all stop? I can tell you where it all too often stops, with teachers fleeing the profession, leaving behind an ever-increasingly demoralized workforce. I know you are not supposed to say that aloud, but that’s the reality.

If a basketball player was struggling with their shot, the coach would alleviate other responsibilities and give them the opportunity to focus singularily on their shot. With teachers, we increase the responsibilities and introduce programs that are supposed to serve as substitutes for their efforts. We do this in spite of a lack of evidence showing that any of these programs are successful on a scale over any length of time. Then instead oft the industrial education complex admitting the err of theoir ways, they just re-name it, repackage it, and resell it.

This is part of the reason it was so maddening to hear Tennessee’s Commissioner of Education Penny Schwinn during TISA hearings try to draw a direct link between spending and student outcomes. It doesn’t happen, and the only element that has been consistently successful in increasing student learning is quality teachers. Which happens to be the one thing we have failed to adequately invest in, year after year.

Now Schwinn and her denizens, have introduced some new bullshit, accelerated learning. What a farce. It doesn’t happen.

My family just got a new puppy. We are being reminded that housebreaking and crate training all take time. There are things you can do to help the process along, but maturity happens at its own pace. Learning happens at its own pace.

Mastering skills does equal complete learning. In order to get to wisdom, you have to have life experiences that match the skill acquisition. Just because a third-grader has the skills to read The Great Gatsby, doesn’t mean they have the maturity to grasp the important concepts. Yet we’ll stand around and boast because my third grader is reading at an eighth-grade level. Fantastic, but they still need time to mature and to be exposed to the life lessons that come with being in a classroom.

Rushing a process that operates independent of our wishes, does an incredible disservice to both teachers and students. Not everything operates at our whim, and some things take the time they take. Pretending otherwise just puts more unreasonable expectations on people and ratchets up the stress.

To be fair, there has been a growing awareness of the physical and mental toll inflicted on teachers. You’d think this recognition would lead to a re-examing of the profession and its demands Sadly that’s not the case. Instead, there is an increase in calls for self-care and prescriptions on how to traverse the increasingly difficult waters of being a classroom teacher. All of these advice columns can be reduced to a simple edict – if you want to survive teaching, be a worse teacher.

Today, Diane Ravitch shared a post that is indicative of what I’m talking about. The piece is written by Mamie Krupczak Allegretti and titled, Advice From a Teacher: How to Avoid Burnout. It reads nice and would be excellent advice if its intended audience was working at Amazon, Mitchells plumbing, or the local deli. It’s not really reflective of the teaching profession.

If you want to be a teacher, it doesn’t seem that the craziness of the institution is going to change anytime soon. So if you really want to teach, you have to find ways to protect yourself, conserve and pace your energy, and lead a balanced life.

There are 3 rules to live by:

1. let go,

2. learn to say “no,” and

3. prioritize what you value.

Go ahead take her advice, routinely ignore late-night emails from building administrators, and see how that plays out. Say “no”, to bus duty. Go ahead and leave at your allotted time instead of staying until the last bus leaves. Focus on what you “value” instead of what is demanded, and tell me how that works out on your next observation.

She’s not wrong when she writes,

What I am really getting at here is learning to create boundaries for yourself. Let go of things and situations over which you have no control and are not in your job description. Sure, there are days when you may be able to do more but monitor yourself and your energy. Learn the boundaries of your energy and then decide what you are willing to give.

Unfortunately, teaching is a profession that doesn’t allow a whole lot of setting boundaries, Maybe 20 years ago, but certainly not today when children need so much more then did even as little as 2 years ago.

What’s also not acknowledged here, and goes unacknowledged on a regular basis, is that teaching is not an individual pursuit. It’s a team sport. That’s why I despise the Teacher of the Year awards.

I promise you this, there is not an individual that has won a TOY award without a great principal, a great RTi specialist, or a great Art teacher. Yet we still act like we are living in that Little House on the Prarie with the schoolmarm in the one-room schoolhouse individually schooling the children of the village. It ain’t reality.

if a teacher draws the advised boundaries, who’s picking up the slack? Because until the demands are changed, the requirements are still there. So every day when a teacher goes home at exactly the prescribed time, some other teacher is required to stay and wait until the last child leaves, Every time a teacher refuses to monitor recess, some other teacher has to do it. At the root of all these decisions, is the well-being of actual children. Unlike in other professions where the work would just remain till the next day, in this case, it could be a child that pays the price for an educator drawing individual boundaries.

To argue for increased recognition of boundaries is not wrong, but it’s not reality either. Until there is an actual re-examination of the responsibilities and culture around the profession of teaching, don’t expect a reduction in the burnout rate.

Even our supposed best intentions, fail to meet alleviate the needs of teachers because we continually fail to listen.

This week, EdReports published an article titled: 3 Common Misconceptions About High-Quality Instructional Materials. A rather ironic title if I say so myself.

They offer the following as truth,

Truth: Teachers spend 7–12 hours per week searching for and creating instructional resources (free and paid). Let’s be real: that is time teachers do not have to spare. But in a recent paper by the Center for Public Research & Leadership studying year one of the pandemic, it found that “[H]igh-quality instructional materials enabled teachers daily to spend time on high-impact activities like strengthening relationships with students and families, tailoring instruction, and participating in curriculum-based, peer-led, and embedded professional learning, rather than on low-impact activities like creating curricula from scratch.”

In addition, “[H]igh-quality instructional materials afforded teachers the time to connect with families about their basic needs… . Teachers focused their attention on building in additional scaffolds, weaving in opportunities for differentiation, and finding supplemental texts to build students’ background knowledge and incorporate more diverse perspectives.”

That “building in additional scaffolds, weaving in opportunities for differentiation and finding supplemental texts to build students’ background knowledge and incorporate more diverse perspectives”, how is that any different than what teachers are already doing? And how does it supply additional time? In talking to teachers on multiple tiers, the answer is, it isn’t and it doesn’t. The only difference is that a private entity is now earning money off of a teacher’s additional efforts.

Last week I wrote about teachers at a school in Williamson County being suspended for using supplemental materials with the program Wit and Wisdom. This fed into the questions around teacher judgment being removed from the equation. Wit and Wisdom, and other like programs, argue that they are not scripted. Yet read the truth as offered by EdReports,

In both studies, teachers initially implemented the program as intended. However, once teachers gained a basic familiarity and comfort with the program’s routines and structures, facilitators encouraged them to carefully adapt some program aspects while keeping its core elements stable. In both studies, these adaptations led to gains in student outcomes over a comparison group of teachers who continued to implement the program without a single deviation to meet individual needs.

The study goes on to say: “While the adaptations created by teachers in these studies led to stronger program effects, the research emphasizes teachers’ initial mastery of the program as a precondition to adaptation success. Often, programs come with interlocking parts—for instance, content mastered in one lesson is a precursor to mastering content in another, or a points-based student incentive structure keeps students focused on program activities. Understanding how program elements work together can help teachers adapt wisely.”

‘Adapt wisely”? That doesn’t sound very appreciative of teachers’ experience and education does it now? Once we got you making the decisions we want, then you might get to supply some input.

Meanwhile, let’s see if we can’t increase the number of tutors utilized because they don’t know better than to follow the script. Former Tennessee Commissioner of Education Kevin Huffman is spearheading an initiative that has already raised $65 million toward a goal of $100 million that seeks to embed high-impact tutoring programs in public schools now and for the long term.

Dr. Miguel Cardona, the U.S. Secretary of Education, said, “The evidence is clear: high-impact tutoring works, and I’ve urged our nation’s schools to provide every student who is struggling with extended access to an effective tutor.”

“The effort announced today—Accelerate—is a rallying cry to schools, districts, states, and others,” Cardona continued. “We must seize this moment to use federal relief funds to help students, including those most impacted by the pandemic, to close gaps in opportunity and achievement that grew even wider over the last two years. Together, we can ensure our elementary and secondary school students receive the supports they need to learn and grow.”

Hmmm…that doesn’t sound very appreciative of teachers to me. Maybe next year it will be teacher and tutor appreciation day.

Despite what authors like Allegritti may argue, change doesn’t happen from the bottom or even the middle. It has to change at the top. Instead of teachers drawing boundaries for themselves, administrators must change the culture.

Instead of sending out an email complementing a full parking lot of teachers sacrificing their weekend to work, how about one that celebrates the fun things teachers did with their families over the weekend?

How about administrators setting boundaries on when they send emails?

How about administrators taking a more active role in the duties outside of the classroom?

How about district and state leaders setting expectations that require principals to engage in the aforementioned behaviors?

Any one of those suggestions would go further in communicating appreciation than a $10 Starbucks gift card.

Social media and the devotion to the pursuit of “happiness”, at the expense of all else, have turned us all into narcissists of varying degrees. As a result, the service professions – police, first responders, teachers, clergy – have fallen out of favor with young people. We’ve forgotten that we are fortunate to have people that are drawn to occupation by more than the salary or convenient work hours, but rather a deep need to serve.

Instead of honoring that inherent need, we scoff at it and search for ways to take advantage.

Instead of faciuillitaing that desire to serve, we find ways to kill it or use it to facilitate our own selfish desires.

Instead of building those people up, we continually tear at them with unreasonable expectations, to the detriment of us all.

The long and the short of all of this is, that if you want to show appreciation to teachers, flip-flop the calendar. Demonstrate appreciation 51 weeks of the year, and show disrespect one week.

Recognize the need to examine what should be on the plate of teachers and what is best left to others.

Put our money where our mouth is and practice what we preach.

Respect the commitment they have made to their profession both in regard to professional development and in regard to applying that to teacher judgment.

One of the major tenets in business has long been that quality leaders hire quality people and allow them to apply the skills that led you to hire them in the beginning. Sounds easy, but to this point, it’s been impossible.

You know if we did those things, not only would student outcomes grow, but we wouldn’t need a teacher appreciation week either.

That’s what I got today, see you on Monday.

If you’ve got something you’d like me to highlight and share, send it to Norinrad10@yahoo.com. Any wisdom or criticism you’d like to share is always welcome.

A huge shout out to all of you who’ve lent your financial support. I am eternally grateful for your generosity. It allows me to keep doing what I do and without you, I would have been forced to quit long ago. It is truly appreciated and keeps the bill collectors happy. Now more than ever your continued support is vital.

If you are interested, I’m sharing posts via email through Substack. This has proven to be an effective way to increase coverage. I am offering free and paid subscriptions. Paid subscriptions will receive additional materials as they become available. Your support would be greatly appreciated.

If you wish to join the rank of donors but are not interested in Substack, you can still head over to Patreon and help a brother out. Or you can hit up my Venmo account which is Thomas-Weber-10. I don’t need much – even $5 would help – but if you think what I do has value, a little help is always greatly appreciated. Not begging, just saying.



Categories: Education

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