Thursday, May 5, 2011

Happy Teacher Appreciation Week! In Search of Teacher Appreciation

by Douglas Grudzina

See if you can complete the following common sayings:
  • Those who can do; those who can’t _____ .
  • If you can read this, thank a _____ .

I was just informed yesterday that this week is “Teacher Appreciation Week,” and the announcement got me to reminiscing about “Teacher Appreciation Weeks” of the past.

To be honest, I don’t remember any—not specific ones anyway, not like the Christmas I got my three-speed English racer bicycle or my wedding day or the births of my daughters.

I do remember that, along about Wednesday of the week (if we were aware of the week at all), the school board would “buy us lunch.” All that really meant was that we wouldn’t be charged for whatever the cafeteria was serving that day.

Of course, our Association officers would insist on paying for their own lunches, but I was never one to look a gift horse in the mouth.
I think I also remember the occasional cookies-and-punch reception hosted by the PTA.

I taught in a 9 – 12 school, so we had some very strong booster organizations but not a terribly vibrant PTA. Still, the Sunshine Hydrox were nice, and red Hawaiian Punch is always a welcome treat.

Sincerely, though, the thought was definitely appreciated, and the person I remember hosting the affairs probably bought the refreshments out of her own pocket.
However, I do not remember:

  • morning PA announcements reminding students, secretarial staff, administration, etc., that it was “Teacher Appreciation Week,” and it might be nice for each one to say one nice thing to one member of the instructional staff in the course of the day;
  • any student, secretary, administrator, etc., stopping by my room to remind me that it was “Teacher Appreciation Week” and saying one nice thing to me that day.

Several states lately have found surprising and creative ways to express their appreciation of teachers. But I don’t want to digress into politics …
When I think about a week like “Teacher Appreciation Week,” I have to remind myself that there are more “- - - Week”s than there are weeks in the year!

The second week of March alone is “National School Breakfast Week” and “Severe Weather Week.”
I wonder what we’re celebrating—and how—during “Severe Weather Week.”

This week “Teacher Appreciation Week” coincides with “National Physical Education and Sports Week.” Do our Phys Ed colleagues feel cheated that their two big commemorations fall on the same week? For all that, however, do we even have an “English Language Arts Education Week”? If so, does anyone know when it is? Maybe they could make one coincide with “National Friends of Libraries Week” (the third week in October) or “Celebrate Freedom Week” (the second week of September).

April 2 is apparently “International Children’s Book Day,” so maybe “ELA Ed Week” could occur then.
Okay, I do want apologize for my apparent cynicism. This is not just a “toss away” week that no one knows anything about. There are tons and tons of “Teacher Appreciation Week” activities and lessons and materials and outlines on the Internet. If you want to make sure TAW gets observed in your classroom, just do a quick Google search. But wouldn’t the teacher’s planning her (his) own classroom’s TAW activities be rather like all the kids inviting themselves over to Mom’s house for Mother’s Day, so she can cook them a big dinner?

To be honest, I rarely felt starved for appreciation during my years in the classroom. Granted, I had those relatively few students (and their parents) who thought (and maybe still do) that I had been born with the express purpose of ruining their (or their child’s) lives, make college entrance impossible, destroy their self-esteem, and condemn them to lives of middle-class drudgery.

But the vast majority of my students (and their parents) knew—and appreciated the fact—that a “C” on a paper was not a condemnation but a challenge to do better; that even if I did pour on the homework the same weekend as the big ski trip, they (or their children) would be hard put to find a career in which they wouldn’t be working long hours or bringing work home—even during a special weekend.

My school had a (short-lived but nice while it lasted) tradition of allowing graduates to choose any high school faculty member they wanted to be the one to present their diploma to them. To be asked—by even one student—was to feel appreciated.
To be invited to a student’s graduation party was to feel appreciated. To have the really shy, quiet kid in the back row of the class who never raised his hand or questioned a grade come up to you to give you a graduation announcement and wallet-sized senior photo was to feel appreciated.

And to have a former student appear out of the blue—in a few cases, some 30 years after their high school graduations—and ask to “friend” you on Facebook is to feel appreciated.
I’m sure you all know what I’m talking about.

Just as we treasure those exquisite “teachable moments” when the cosmic forces are all in alignment, and we know we’ve gotten through; we treasure those moments when the human spirit inside of our students touches the human spirit inside of us, and that spirit tells us _you are a part of what I have become, and I thank you for that_.

Sort of an academic _Namaste_.

I will be honest: sometimes I miss my interactions with my students. So … for this “Teacher Appreciation Week,” my wish for all of you out there who are classroom teachers is that, in addition to the school board’s free slice of pizza and the PTA’s cookies and punch, you are able to recall the times you know you made a positive difference and especially the times someone let you know.

Think about the times you know you are appreciated … and smile.

Happy “Teacher Appreciation Week.”

(By the way, Sunday is Mother’s Day. You probably still have time to defrost a turkey or something—but don’t make Mom cook it.)

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