Imagine that you have just accepted a new job.

Tomorrow, 20-30 young children will arrive at your house around 7:30am.  Some of them will be calm and collected; others will be bouncing off the wall from a sugary breakfast; and some will not have eaten breakfast at all.  Some of them will be friends with each other and some of them will not like each other.  Some of them will speak like little geniuses and others will have trouble reading.

Your job is to plan a day of engaging activities that will keep this group of children happy and well-behaved.  You have the option to design the day however you want, but your performance will be judged by how well they do on a test at the end of the year.

You’ll repeat this task with some variation for almost every weekday over a nine month period.

We’ll give you a generous 20 minute lunch break every day, and you can work from home in the evenings to plan for the next day.  Your starting salary will be about $30,000 and over time you’ll make about 50% less than your peers who also graduated college but are working in other professions.

You are going to love these kids like crazy and put your heart and soul into this job.  You’re not in it for the money.  You’re in it for the looks on their faces when they finally understand something new, for the joy of seeing them build their self-esteem, and for the impact you’ll have on their future and in turn the rest of the world’s future.  Just the little things, right?

Oh, and just so you know, a lot of the time you’re going to hear people say: “Gosh, I wish I had your job.  Only work part-time for 9 months and get my summers off!  Must be nice.”  

Interior of Elementary School Classroom

The first week in May is Teacher Appreciation Week.

If you didn’t get excited about the job offer I’ve just described, chances are you’re not a teacher.  And that’s ok.  Not everyone is built to be a teacher.  It takes a certain kind of person to spend day-in, day-out in a room full of kids.

It also takes a certain kind of person to take care of our kids in a system that is far from perfect and isn’t going to change overnight.  Those people deserve our appreciation.  Not just this week, but every week.

They deserve our appreciation even if they’re not perfect or they don’t always get it right. 

99% of teachers are in the classroom for the right reason; they care deeply about every kid who comes through the door and they are doing their very best to do right by each of them.
Because 99% of teachers are in the classroom for the right reason; they care deeply about every kid who comes through the door and they are doing their very best to do right by each of them.

This year, for teacher appreciation week, let’s take it outside of the classroom.  Sure, we should still do nice things for our teachers to show them personally how much we appreciate them (here are some ideas). But if we really want to make a difference in their lives, we need to do more.  We need to speak up loudly and clearly to defend teachers against those who criticize them based on inaccurate and unfair information.  

We can start by reading the National Education Association’s Myths and Facts about Educator Pay.  In addition to the salary statistics shared in our hypothetical job description, you’ll learn:

  • Annual pay for teachers has decreased “sharply” compared to other professions over the last 60 years
  • Most teachers work about 50 hours per week (not just the 6-8 hour school day for which they are contracted)
  • Most teachers spend the summer teaching summer classes or taking professional certification courses to keep up their license.
  • You’ll also learn that “tenure” does not equal “job for life” – it simply ensures that teachers can only be fired for just cause and have a right to due process before being fired.

Next time you hear someone say that teachers “have it easy” or are “overpaid” or are “never fired” you’ll have some facts to counter those arguments.

If we truly appreciate our teachers, we need to speak up when we hear people making these claims.  Whether we see these arguments in the comments section of a newspaper article or at a discussion for a town school budget vote, we can’t just silently disagree – we need to say something.  Write a letter to the editor, speak up in a public meeting, or write to your congressperson to advocate for legislation that supports teachers.

For Teacher Appreciation Week, and beyond, let’s give teachers the gift of our support and our voice, especially when times get tough.  Because that’s an easy thing for us to do compared to what they do every day for our kids and our communities.