Ok, I’m late to the party. I know that Teacher Appreciation Week technically is over, but I must admit I had some challenges in putting my thoughts down about how much gratitude I have for the teachers I serve alongside and the others across the nation who daily answer the call. For me, this week has been a very personal one of reflection and I’ve been reminded that so much of who we are as educators is a manifestation of the most intimate aspects of our life.
Most of us are in education in part because there was a special teacher or maybe several who made a lasting impression on our lives. We admired them, respected them — maybe we would even say we loved them. We felt like they saw us and cared for us, perhaps even believed in us when we didn’t see it. Or possibly just encouraged us when we struggled or doubted.
I know that there were great teachers that were special to me and I wanted to be that for others. I naively assumed it was easy because that’s how they made it look. Trust me, there were calls home and trips to the principals’ offices that demonstrated I wasn’t always easy to have in class. I can’t recall ever being demeaned or disrespected but redirected to be better and do better. Sometimes that’s all it took. Sometimes it took a few more reminders, but I never felt like I wasn’t safe and welcomed at school. What a critical part that plays in our interactions with our students these days!
As I’m now in my third decade of education, I don’t recall a time when teachers have been so publicly criticized for so many things. Schools are criticized for not teaching lessons of citizenship and character and then conversely criticized for indoctrination. I’ve seen educators criticized for not attending to the needs of an individual child and then conversely for trying to act as the parent. I think it is a reflection of so much of the vitriol that seems to be running through our society and institutions from organized religion to politics on all levels and our towns cities and neighborhoods.
I don’t possess the solution to fix any of it. All I can do is show up each day and care for those around me and work to help make their lives better. Sometimes that’s a student who is missing school because she must interpret for every doctor’s appointment and hospitalization her chronically ill parents have. Sometimes that’s a teacher that needs to vent about a frustration. Sometimes that’s finding a resource for a staff member with an innovative idea. My pastor has talked a lot this year about doing the next right thing and that’s been what I’ve tried to focus on. The big picture can be too overwhelming. I just want to do the next right thing for the students, staff and families in front of me.
So, I’m getting around to officially posting my gratitude to those I work alongside of for Teacher Appreciation Week 2022. Thank you to the nutrition teacher who fostered the excitement of one of her immigrant students who wanted to fix a native dish that he enjoyed in his homeland prior to his arrival in America 8 months ago. Thank you to the AP teacher who stood outside the testing area to give one last smile and encouragement to her kids as they faced the exam and to the teachers who came to school early to make a breakfast for their kids to have prior to the 4-hour test. Thank you to the teacher who shared the cultural background of her refugee students so they could feel less homesick as they faced the first holiday season away from the country they had to flee. Thank you to the teacher who sees a colleague in need and rallies other teachers to support her with anything from a Sonic drink to a meal card or Uber eats donation.
I sent this email to my staff yesterday with words from Parker Palmer – a talented writer and dedicated educator who speaks into the personal challenges of the work due to the close proximity of teaching and self-identity. Here’s what I sent:
“Today marks the last day of official “teacher appreciation week” but one week simply isn’t enough to demonstrate gratitude for all the wonderful work done here at JHS by all the adults investing in the lives of our Trojans. In ‘The Heart of a Teacher,’ Parker Palmer talks about the authentic struggles of working with students through this incredibly demanding calling. Here is a brief excerpt:
I am a teacher at heart, and there are moments in the classroom when I can hardly hold the joy. When my students and I discover uncharted territory to explore, when the pathway out of a thicket opens up before us, when our experience is illumined by the lightning-life of the mind—then teaching is the finest work I know.
But at other moments, the classroom is so lifeless or painful or confused—and I am so powerless to do anything about it that my claim to be a teacher seems a transparent sham. Then the enemy is everywhere: in those students from some alien planet, in that subject I thought I knew, and in the personal pathology that keeps me earning my living this way. What a fool I was to imagine that I had mastered this occult art—harder to divine than tea leaves and impossible for mortals to do even passably well!
We lose heart, in part, because teaching is a daily exercise in vulnerability. I need not reveal personal secrets to feel naked in front of a class. I need only parse a sentence or work a proof on the board while my students doze off or pass notes. No matter how technical or abstract my subject may be, the things I teach are things I care about—and what I care about helps define my selfhood.
Unlike many professions, teaching is always done at the dangerous intersection of personal and public life…Honesty and healing sometimes happen quite simply, thanks to the alchemical powers of the human soul. When I, with 30 years of teaching experience, speak openly about the fact that I still approach each new class with trepidation, younger faculty tell me that this makes their own fears seem more natural—and thus easier to transcend—and a rich dialogue about the teacher’s selfhood often ensues. We do not discuss techniques for “fear management,” if such exist. Instead, we meet as fellow travelers and offer encouragement to each other in this demanding but deeply rewarding journey across the inner landscape of education—calling each other back to the identity and integrity that animate all good work, not least the work called teaching.
As someone who also has 30 years’ experience, I am still amazed at what I see in classrooms across JHS. Your work is important and brave and hard and scrutinized and exciting and rejuvenating and draining – sometimes all in the same class period. Thank you for your willingness to serve EVERY Trojan by seeing EACH of our Trojans. Thank you for meeting as fellow travelers who offer encouragement to each other in this demanding but deeply rewarding journey.”
You can find the rest of this writing passage at the link below.
So for all the teachers, educators, administrators, counselors, paraprofessionals, staff members and all adults investing in the lives of students across our nation, I am in awe of the work you personally engage in and as a fellow traveler, I want to say thank you for doing it for them!