Why Keeping Great Teachers Matters - What Teachers Really Want for Teacher Appreciation Week
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What Teachers want for Teacher Appreciation Week - Episode 036
Every year parents and PTAs search for what teachers want for Teacher Appreciation Week. But if we want to keep passionate teachers in our schools we are going to have to look beyond the coffee mug and flowers. Teacher appreciation week is approaching, and much like all Hallmark-fabricated events, this should be a year – or more than a year. So that’s why this episode is about the awesomeness of teachers. In this podcast, I share what I’ve learned with conversations with teachers this past year – because it’s not just a job, it’s a calling.
Turning Discipline into a Love of Learning
In episode 003 of School Counselor Gone Rogue, I spoke with an amazing teacher I call Mr. X. Mr. X has been an administrator, elementary, middle and high school teacher, has even run for President. He talks about how he got started in dressing up for his students and fell into being a creative teacher.
“A student cam in one morning (when I was teaching elementary school) and for some reason brought in a roll of aluminum foil. And they were passing it out to the kids. I asked what they were doing and they said they were just making stuff.
It was disrupting the class, so I collected all the aluminum foil, and I ended up shaping it into a helmet, an alien space helmet, and I started teaching math class that day as an alien from outer space and the kids were just eating out of my hands. After that happened a couple of different times, I started putting two and two together, realized the kids love it when you dress up and do crazy stuff. Focusing more on U.S. History over the years, that was the thing to do whenever I could to bring the story to life through the eyes of a particular historical figure, and that’s how it started.”
Mr. X pulled this memory to trace the moment he started engaging his students with play, but I want you to listen to that clip – that was a huge moment for him, but ignore that.
Think about the impact it had on his students. Students who were acting the fool and instead of being punished, their teacher used it as a moment to engage them. How many of those students, do you think, still remember that moment, where they took a subject as terrible as math and made it fun? How would my experience have been different, if I’d had a teacher who could play with the material and engage me and say “Okay, you aren’t getting this and you might want to check out, but let’s work together to make this as painless as possible?”
Having a teacher that can engage with students and inspire their love for learning, that’s great for that teacher who goes into work every day loving their job, but when you find a teacher who can push students to learn, who can have them have fun with the material, that is huge. If your kiddo has one of those teachers, you need to sing it from the rooftops. Send an email to your principal, to the school board and say “Hey, we have teacher who is making a difference in the way kiddos learn.”
Why are Student’s Starting to Find Less Value in Learning?
But where did that all start to change? That was when Mr. X was in elementary school, and now being in high school- why are we seeing students so disconnected from learning? We had this conversation about the impact of constant testing, and a desire to learn. Here’s what Mr. X had to say:
I had more students say that they really don’t try as much as they should on the standardized testing, because they don’t feel it’s to their benefit, that it’s only to pad district data numbers, and as a teacher, you try to always stress “do your best for the pride in your own work, to show what you can do. Don’t worry about anybody else, do it for you” but we’re hearing a lot more of the mindset of “This isn’t about me. This is about data that somebody else wants to collect. I’m just a number.”
That’s hard to hear because when students start to talk like that, you know they’ve started to lose the love for education. And, like your husband and I try to do, we try to make sure the kids get the best every day, that’s not to say other teachers aren’t, we do it in the way we do it – dressing up or whatever, but we want the kids to come to school for the love of learning. But sometimes when you’re testing to see how you might do on the actual test, you start losing that edge.”
When we’re talking about what makes a great teacher, one that inspires students, who makes them excited to come into the classroom every day, why are we making it so difficult for teachers to do that? Why are we putting test after test…let me tell you – I had students who couldn’t tell me if they took the Sat, the PSAT the EOC, the ABC, because pretty soon all those tests started to blend into one. The other thing that was maddening is you had students who were intensive reading, or intensive math, who were also in honors levels of those classes at the same time. Why was that? Because when they were getting tested time after time, they stopped seeing the importance of it, so they were like “Eh. I’ll just make pretty tree patterns in the bubbles.” And then, it ends up that they have to be put into an intensive course because their test score wasn’t good enough.
Pretty soon, we’re going to get to the point where kiddos can’t tell the difference between learning for the love of learning, and becoming a data point. We need to stop shooing teachers away who give that love of learning. And schools need to become real clear. In this next clip, with Dan, who is a teacher and an author, we talked about whether schools are looking for teachers who are applying for a help wanted ad, or whether they’re looking for people with a calling. Schools need to get real clear on that point, because what we’re going to end up having is people who want a paycheck, and the great teachers they have in that system who are getting shoved down and their creativity getting diminished, they’re going to start to leave. So Dan is amazing.
Schools need to become crystal clear on what they’re looking to hire. I can find you a ton of warm bodies. We can just take a stroll down the street and I’ll be like ‘Hey do you want to clock out at three and have summers off?”
But great teachers aren’t the ones who clock out at three o’clock. If you want a bunch of warm bodies, hire for that and let parents know exactly what you’re doing. Don’t be like “we’re trying to shape the future’ and then have them be taught like robots.
Preventing Teacher Burnout
Dan Tricarico is another amazing teacher I spoke with this season. In addition to being a high school English teacher, Dan is the author of two books for teacher self-care Sanctuaries and The Zen Teacher So let’s hear this clip from Dan, talking about teacher burnout. He has two amazing books he’s written about teacher burnout and not being able to cope with the pressures.
I absolutely recommend teaching as a path, but the expectations, the overwork and the snuffing out of the creativity in favor of the test, playing counselors against the teachers and that sort of thing, I can’t recommend that. That’s why I saw teachers burning out. That’s’ why I was heading to burnout.
Luckily, I found a way to cope. That’s where the Zen comes in. Zen is accepting what is without judgment. I have to accept that people who don’t understand what we do in the summer, who don’t understand why we have second jobs, the people who go “Oh, it must be great to get all that time off in the summer.” They don’t get it, they’re not going to get it and I can’t get all wound up about that. I have to just let that go. I can get frustrated about that, or I can just breathe and be content in what I’m doing, know my own situation. I don’t know their situation either. I try in a very Zen way not to make judgments about what they’re going through.
They assume they know what teaching is about, but they don’t know. They’ve heard stories. I think most people go watch a teacher or sub for a day and they go “you do that every day?” and we go “yeah,” and they go “I would not be able to do that!” No, you probably wouldn’t.
They don’t get it, and I have to accept that.
That was from episode 21 , when I had a conversation with Dan about the art of teacher self-care. He is truly an inspirational being.
As much as I love Dan, I don’t want him to have to accept the life he chose as a teacher. He deserves more than that. There are so many teachers who deserve more than just to accept that’s the way things are.
So what are we going to do to change it?
Help Teachers by Appreciating (and advocating for change) the System they are In
What I want to get really clear here is that all the teachers I talk to, and my husband, they love their job. They love their school. It’s not a matter of one school one principal. Don’t get it twisted that they think it’s a conversation specifically about where they’re at. It’s about the system as a whole.
When we walk into teacher appreciation week, it’s more than just “Hey, thanks for being with my child for X number of weeks.” I want you to really think about the system that teachers are working within. Especially if you have a student who is a struggling learner. Those teachers who are super passionate about lighting a fire under students – your kiddo is the one they’re thinking about. Every night when they go home, I guarantee they’re thinking about your child. They’re saying “Dear God. How do I handle trying to help this kiddo, who is amazing, but is struggling and then I have 150 other students and I have to worry about them all passing this test and what that’s going to mean for my family if they don’t?”
When you’re reaching out to teachers for teacher appreciation this week, it’s more than just a “thank you for helping my kiddo. Thank you for helping my kiddo despite all of the things you have to handle. Thank you for engaging my child and for making them excited to learn, even though you might be stuck in a system that’s trying to keep you from doing any of that. Thank you. Please keep doing it. Even though my kiddo might be a knucklehead on occasion, it’s working.”
And to teachers who are thinking of leaving the field – the ones who probably came down to the school counselor’s office after school and unloaded in the office and said “Dear god. What is going on?” Why am I not reaching people anymore? Why are things so different? I don’t understand what I’m doing wrong. I could be waiting tables and making twice as much as what I do as a teacher and maybe I should, because I’m not making a difference anymore!”
To those teachers, I say “Please. Please. Please Please keep going. And let’s have a conversation about it.
Send me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org or go to schoolcounselorgonerogue.com and let’s have a conversation about how we can keep fighting to make things better. We always talk about how the kids are worth it – “The children are our future,” a la Whitney Houston, well yes. That’s part of it, and if they weren’t, then you would have an empty classroom. I’m sure on some days that sounds better, but you teachers, the awesome ones, know that you matter just as much in this equation.
You know what? People out in the government making big official decisions about education and haven’t set foot in a classroom either ever, or in god knows how many years? How about we throw out a new standardized test? How about we give a test that measures their overall satisfaction with their jobs? How about we take that into account? How about we ding your bonuses and paycheck based on their satisfaction rate?
I firmly believe it’s not just about the answers on a test that measure student satisfaction and student improvement in education. It’s the people who are in that classroom with them.
Let great teachers teach. Get curious about the systems your kiddos teachers are working with. Maybe there’s not an issue at all with your child’s teachers and they have an awesome district and awesome support and everything is gravy, and that is awesome, but maybe there’s something that can be changed.
On top of that letter of appreciation that you’re that you’re sending or that gift card to Starbucks, get curious about their lives. I know my husband’s students and families are always surprised when they see us at the roller skating rink on the weekends and our kids are having a blast, and there he is, sitting at a table grading work for 8 hours every weekend, because awesome teachers don’t check out at 3 and have their summers off.
It is a constant job of worry and thoughtfulness in how can I help these kiddos love what they’re doing every day?
To the teachers I have heard form this year, and those I’m going to speak to in the future – the ones listening and saying “Uh huh, I know exactly what you’re talking about, keep fighting. Shoot me an email. Let me know how I can help. Send me an email. Let’s keep this conversation going.
Teachers, I appreciate you.
Teacher Appreciation Week
Hiring teachers who are passionate about the field
Preventing teacher burnout
Marni Pasch| Host of School Counselor Gone Rogue| Academic Coach | Team Pasch Academic Coaching
I work with students in grades 6th and higher, who struggle with academic confidence and motivation. I help them survive school with less stress by helping them create concrete goals, tackle procrastination and learn creative study techniques. I empower students to take charge of their education and reach their goals. I do this through individual or group coaching so students achieve success in life, school, career readiness and their social endeavors.