Beginning in 1984, the National PTA of the United States has annually set aside one week in May as “Teacher Appreciation Week”. During this week, teachers are honored, supported, and recognized for the work that they do with students day in and day out, all year long. Internationally, this week may fall at a different time of year, be limited to only a day, or perhaps, not happen at all. But outside of these designated times when educators might anticipate handmade cards or treats in the staff room, what other signs of appreciation do they receive?
Usually, it’s pretty clear when we’ve positively impacted a child, ignited a spark, or helped a student overcome an obstacle. Kids are generally pretty good at conveying their appreciation for what we do. Whether that comes as an impromptu hug from a kindergartener, or a heartfelt “I couldn’t have done this without you” from a graduating senior, we know when our students value the time and energy that we put into their education and into them as individuals.
And sometimes, that’s enough. We take pride in what we do, and when we see a student’s face light up with new knowledge, the hard work and long hours are worth it. When we help a child succeed in math, encourage a reluctant writer to finish a story, or guide a student through a difficult social situation, we feel proud of our work. We don’t need anyone else to acknowledge our efforts or stroke our egos; the proof is in the student.
At times, however, teachers need to feel that their efforts are recognized by the adults involved as well. What about the parents, colleagues, and administrators? What are they doing–or not doing–to let teachers know that they are valued?
A few days ago, I read a post on social media written by a teacher who felt as though she was not being appreciated by her administrators. As others chimed in with similar stories and anecdotes, I started to wonder: What does appreciation look like? What form does it take for different people? Just as our students are all individuals and have different needs and styles, we too have different needs and preferences. While one teacher feels appreciated when recognized publicly, the teacher in the classroom next door might be mortified by such a thing, and would prefer a note or a quiet email acknowledging a job well done.
I posed these questions online in order to find out what makes teachers feel valued at work, and, as I suspected they would, the answers varied greatly. For some teachers, it’s an announced dress-down day. For others, it’s fresh-baked cakes or cookies in the staff room. Many who responded said that “thank you goes a long way”, and that a smile and a personal acknowledgment from colleagues and administrators does the trick. And besides taking more time and effort to craft than an email, a personalized, handwritten note card makes teachers feel genuinely appreciated. Some even said that they have kept these notes and looked back on them over the years.
However, beyond these often tangible tokens of appreciation, many teachers said that they regularly feel appreciated when they are listened to by their colleagues and administration. Teachers want their voices to be heard. When ideas, suggestions, and complaints are given authentic recognition, teachers feel valued. They want to be part of the discourse, not just told the outcomes of decisions that have been made. Small check-ins about items other than curriculum also have a big impact. It’s easy to get lost in the paperwork and the to-do lists, and for all conversations to revolve around students and unit planning and clerical items. However, when an administrator pops by your classroom to ask a question about how you’re doing as a person–then takes the time to actually listen to your response–this makes a huge difference. Acknowledging that teachers’ social and emotional well-being is also a priority, and recognizing the whole person, is instrumental in making teachers feel appreciated.
In addition to having administrators who listen to them, teachers want to be respected and treated as professionals. Many teachers said that they are grateful for casual drop-in observations from administrators who engage in the lessons and know what is happening in the classroom. They interact with the students and ask questions, then give constructive feedback. Micromanaging is a quick way to kill staff morale and make teachers feel like they cannot be trusted. Conversely, giving teachers voice in decision-making, and allowing collaboration to happen organically makes them feel that they are valued as professionals. When PD opportunities are differentiated, when teachers are able to seek out personal wellness at work, and when time is respected, the overall culture of a school can be drastically improved. Simply put, teachers who feel valued will add more value.
Many who chimed in on this topic likened the variety of ways in which educators feel appreciated to the theory of “love languages”, based on the book by Gary Chapman. This theory states that there are five ways that people express love. Not surprisingly, people express and receive appreciation in various ways as well. Along with Dr. Paul White, Chapman has co-authored another book titled, The Five Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace. This book instructs leaders how to communicate their appreciation, thereby improving staff morale, increasing engagement, and building solid relationships among faculty. That, in turn, creates more buy-in and pushes employees to want to do more and work harder.
Hopefully, educators are in this profession for the kids–and their feedback should be the most important of all. If a teacher feels valued by his or her students, that should be enough. But sometimes, those little tokens of gratitude from other adults keep us going when our batteries are drained and our patience is running thin. On those days when we feel everything is going wrong, or when we’re not reaching a particular student, or when a family member back home is sick and we’re just struggling to be present, we might need just a little more. A smile, a handwritten note, or a personal, genuine, “How are you today?” can work wonders toward making teachers feel that their hard work and personal health is valued.
Happy Teacher Appreciation Week. May you all feel cherished, primarily by your students, but by their parents, your colleagues, and your administrators as well. And if there are cookies in the staff room this week, make sure to grab one…or maybe two.