Opinion
Teaching Profession Opinion

What Teachers Really Want for Teacher Appreciation Week

Empty words of appreciation aren’t enough, teachers say
By Mary Hendrie — May 06, 2024 3 min read
A teacher holds an open book overflowing with flowers.
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It’s that time of year again for social media posts, emails, and gifts thanking teachers for their hard work—and legions of teachers who still report feeling unappreciated. For years, writers have taken to Education Week’s opinion pages to mark the week with both heartfelt thanks and searching reflections on how to make that appreciation last far longer than five days.

In 2021, teachers of the year from seven states came together to write “It’s Teacher Appreciation Week. Flowers? Mugs? We’re Looking for Something More,” expressing their hopes for appreciative gestures that won’t wilt by the end of the week.

Their No. 1 ask? “Include teachers in education decisions.”

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Another former state teacher of the year came to a similar conclusion several years earlier, when 2014 Texas Teacher of the Year Monica Washington argued that messages of appreciation ring hollow when they aren’t accompanied by a seat at the decisionmaking table: “We are often told that we are ‘valued professionals’ who ‘change the lives of our students every day.’ But we are also micromanaged to immobility, not trusted to make the simplest decisions that affect students’ learning and well-being.”

Sharif El-Mekki has taken on a principal eye view of this conundrum in several recent essays. “What if we made Teacher Appreciation Week last all year?” he asked school leaders last spring, before laying out five actionable recommendations.

Several months later, the former principal kept the theme of teacher appreciation alive into the fall by offering “The 4 Gifts Principals Should Give Teachers This Year (Hint: Not Another School Mug).”

That’s not the only call to action opinion writers had for principals. Explaining her own approach in “Why One Principal Is Asking Her Staff to Do Less,” Indiana Principal Crystal Thorpe dialed in on the ABCs of school—academics, behavior, and culture—to slow down the runaway snowball of demands on teachers.

For some quick-hit ideas of how school leaders can back up those “thank you” emails with action, look no further than teacher and blogger Larry Ferlazzo’s three roundups of educators sharing the one thing principals can do to support their teachers:

Part of appreciating teachers starts with respecting their profession as more than just a steppingstone to administration or some other career changes. That’s the message of “Why I’m Happy Being ‘Just a Teacher,’” in which Amanda Myers works through her response to a recent dinner party guest who pushed for answers on her “next step” after teaching. The widespread assumption that every teacher is an administrator-in-waiting undermines the valuable types of leadership that teachers bring to the job they already have, she writes.

Gratitude doesn’t just come from outside the profession: Teachers are ready to appreciate each other as well. Just look at what these teachers and student-teachers had to say about the educators who inspired them:

Those words of affirmation are just in line with instructional coach Lisa Westman’s prescriptions in the 2017 opinion essay “Teachers, Do We Appreciate One Another?” To help her fellow educators join the mutual-appreciation party, Westman translates the popular love languages—gift giving, words of affirmation, quality time, acts of service, and physical connection—into work-appropriate gestures to make colleagues feel valued.

“Teachers most frequently say they feel unappreciated by society and administration,” she wrote. “And it is easy to look outward at factors we cannot control, we can’t make society appreciate us. But, when we look inward, we must ask, what part do we, teachers, play in creating a culture of appreciation?”

A decade into retirement, former English teacher Laurie Barnoski was still feeling the appreciation when she sat down to write a love letter to teaching back in 2018. After reconnecting with four former students—two of whom had gone on to become English teachers themselves—she was reminded of the long-tail influence of her job.

“By taking time to say thank you,” she wrote, “my students were telling me that my 32 years in the classroom meant something; my goal to have a positive impact on my students was complete. They gave me the greatest gift human beings can give one another: They told me that I mattered.”

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