Tuesday, May 2, 2023

Happy Teacher Appreciation Day

There have been better days for the profession. 

In Oklahoma, State School Superintendent Dudebro called the teachers union a "terrorist organization" while suggesting they want to "sabotage our kids," because, as we all know, the teachers union kept schools from opening as a way to extort more government funds (maybe he meant funds for things like making schools safer to operate during a deadly pandemic). If that seems like a bad way to recruit teachers, well, he is offering a signing bonus for newbies. You know what doesn't help you apply for a car loan or a mortgage? A one-time bonus.

That was awful, albeit predictable. Maybe not as awful as the school district lawyer in Virginia, where the  teacher who was shot by a six year old is suing the school district that failed in so many ways to keep her and other students safe. The lawyer's argument? Getting shot is just part of what teachers should expect when they sign up for the job. So a simple worker's compensation claim is all that's needed. 

The brief glowing period of March-April 2020, during which people appreciated the Heroic Teachers doing their best to McGyver some sort of education in the midst of general pandemic panic--it now looks the really high initial hill on a roller coaster, the one you climb so that when gravity finally catches hold, it can wreak maximum havoc.

And at this point it doesn't even count as news when the indoctrination or groomer charges are leveled. Just another day in educationland.

Teaching has always had an appreciation problem. Everybody thinks they know how to do a teacher's job; mostly they're wrong. And the appreciation week you do get was created by the PTA; it's not like some folks completely outside the education ecosystem thought, "Yeah, teachers should have a week for appreciation." 

And to be fair, it's not just teaching--for whatever reason, we are in a cultural period marked by a serious lack of generosity of spirit, a meagerness of grace. Appreciation is a scarce commodity, and when it appears it is too often simply a slightly dressed up version of "I appreciate you for being on my team."

Nevertheless. Teachers deserve some appreciation. 

I did the job for 39 years, and with the exception of a brief dark period, I didn't regret it for a minute. But it was hard. It was time and labor intensive; on the list of things people don't understand about teaching, we can include just how many hours of the day it eats up. And I don't mean just the obvious stuff, like the stacks of papers and forms and lesson plans that get carried home, or the hours and hours of time spent in the classroom outside the contracted hours. There's also the sheer head space--one of the big adjustments of retirement is that (even with Board of Directors navigating toddlerhood), I didn't have nearly so much stuff taking up space in my head. You think through the day's interactions with students, you think through individual student issues, you mentally rejigger your schedule for maximum efficiency ("If I grade those papers while I eat supper, I could carve out twenty minutes to go walk outside").

Nor do people get the weight of compromise, the hard part of teaching where you have to make decisions about what needs to be done that you are not going to do, because you are human and you have limits. And then making peace with those decisions. And then not talking about it because talking about the hard parts of teaching just sounds like whining to people who haven't been there. 

Teaching is not for just anyone. It's not for folks who are slow on their feet. It's not for people who have limited grasp of the subject matter. It's not for people who can't be self-motivated and self-directed, because for much of the time, it's an isolating job, and when you do encounter adults in your work, they're after something. The cavalry is not coming (and if something cavalry-like shows up, they may very well be shooting at you). 

Teaching is a profession (the second oldest one), with all the training and professional skills and knowledge that implies. But it's also a very blue collar type of job, where you have to roll up your sleeves, dig in, and flex whatever muscles you have. And unlike other professional jobs, it's one where you have very little control over your environment or the flow of your day. I've known lots of medical folks, and their experience of time is completely different from teacher time. Doctors and nurses do work in the time it takes to get it done and done right. Teachers work with dozens of deadlines every day. 

And in a society that is ever-increasingly organized around profit and gain and ROI and increasing shareholder value, teaching remains largely work of service--service to students, service to families, service to communities. Despite widespread and concerted efforts to make schools run like businesses, teachers remain largely focused on service to the point that the tension between teachers; mission of service and demands that schools function like (or converted to) businesses that crank out useful meat widgets--that tension is one of the major sources of personal stress for the modern teacher.

Teachers do the work, day after day, student after student. Well, actually not student after student, because they are handling umpty-ump students simultaneously. I'm not partial to billowy shining writing about teaching as a calling and a gift because, for me, that glosses over the sheer hard work that goes into teaching, the degree to which teachers gut it out. They are climbing that mountain, hand over hand, skinned knees knocking another rocky outcrop; they are not floating up to the top like some kind of feathered angels. And while they climb that mountain, they are helping dozens of other fledgling humans and fellow sherpas make the climb as well. If it all seems that effortless and natural, that is only one more mark of how much skill and technique and experience and sweat that teacher is putting into the work.

Teachers are real people, with the whole range of real people weaknesses and flaws, and they do the work anyway, which, for me, is far more meaningful and impressive than if they were all some sort of superhuman beings walking on clouds and magically imbued with some sort of teacher power. Real people, and--as we've been learning for the past few years--real people who don't have to stay in the classroom if they don't want to.

So God bless everyone who is still in there, still doing the work, still climbing the mountain, still helping hold up your little piece of the human race and society, helping as many as you can climb that mountain, too. Thank you for everything you've done and everything you're about to do.


  1. Thank you. No words left to compare to yours.

  2. Spot on, Peter Greene🙏