This Teacher Appreciation Week, It's Time To Turn Admiration Into Action

“Teaching is the profession that enables all other professions,” writes Secretary of Education Miguel A. Cardona. “And teachers deserve respect.”
St. John School students hold signs as they drive by their teacher, Megan Congemi, during a surprise parade held in her honor on "Teacher Appreciation Day" in Boston on May 5, 2020.
St. John School students hold signs as they drive by their teacher, Megan Congemi, during a surprise parade held in her honor on "Teacher Appreciation Day" in Boston on May 5, 2020.
Photo by Jessica Rinaldi/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Twenty-five years ago, I was a newly minted college graduate brimming with excitement for the teaching profession. So excited that I spent $450 of my own savings on crayons, notebooks, and decorations for Room 160 — my first classroom. To welcome my class of fourth graders, I designed a wall banner with a rocket ship that said, “Let the journey begin.”

On that day, the journey began for me, too.

We, educators, live for those moments when our students feel a sense of belonging in our classrooms and start to believe in themselves. Those moments when a student discovers a love of writing, a knack for numbers, an ear for music, or an eye for art that they didn’t know they possessed — when students don’t just meet your highest expectations but surpass them.

Especially during National Teacher Appreciation Week, I want to thank you — America’s educators.

You build relationships with students and set a high bar for their growth. You believe in their potential, even when they don’t see it quite yet themselves. It’s not an exaggeration: You change lives.

As we celebrate you, know this: The Biden-Harris team and the Department of Education see you. We know appreciation can’t just be a box of donuts dropped off in your breakroom. You deserve action that shows America truly values you.

At this moment, you’re facing unprecedented challenges. A public education sector that lost 9% of its jobs amid the pandemic has left you with growing workloads and less time to provide students with the individual attention that you know they need. Salaries are far below what most professionals with graduate degrees earn. Politicians who’ve never studied the science of learning are trying to tell you what you can teach and attempting to drive a wedge between you and your families.

But this divisiveness does not reflect the thriving school communities I’ve seen nationwide. And through it all, you’re focused on what matters most — your students.

Teaching is the profession that enables all other professions. And teachers deserve respect.

That’s why, as your secretary of education, I’m pushing for what I call a focus on “the ABCs of the teaching profession”:

Agency. Better Working Conditions. Competitive Salary.

That’s what President Joe Biden and I are fighting for.

Agency means making sure you’re part of conversations that impact the work you do. Thriving school communities incorporate the voices of teachers along with students, families and school leaders. Agency means treating you as a professional with pathways to advance your career and earn more while still doing what you love — teaching.

Better working conditions mean giving you the support you need to do your job effectively, including time for planning and collaboration with your peers. And it means finally moving past “one-and-done” professional development and prioritizing job-embedded learning, coaching and mentoring.

Competitive salary means recognizing that no one pursues a career in education to get rich, but no teacher should qualify for your state welfare program. In the last 25 years, wages for college graduates have gone up by 28%, while weekly wages for teachers have gone up by a measly 2%. That’s an increase of $29 per week for teachers and $445 for other professionals with college degrees. It can sometimes feel like a teacher tax. You deserve better.

The Biden-Harris team understands this. So we’ve been putting our appreciation for you into action.

That’s why the president has secured a $1.9 billion increase in funding for schools serving low-income communities, which can help with teacher pay.

It’s also why the Department of Education is partnering with state and local education leaders to improve teacher salaries. And we’re seeing progress.

The Indianapolis Public Schools agreed to a combined 6% increase in teacher pay. In addition, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-N.M.) signed a bill that increased base salaries, on average, by 20% for New Mexico’s teachers. And Gov. Kay Ivey (R-Ala.) enacted a pay increase that boosts compensation for Alabama educators by at least 4%, with those with nine or more years of experience earning 5 to 21% more.

We need more leaders taking bold actions like these.

And at the federal level, we’ve worked to make it more affordable to be a teacher by helping educators get student loan forgiveness. The Biden-Harris team’s improvements to the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program have resulted in $42 billion in forgiveness for over 615,000 public servants — including educators. And our proposed income-driven repayment plan would cut monthly payments for undergraduate borrowers in half and create faster pathways to forgiveness.

We’ve also secured $2.65 billion to grow and support a diverse, talented and effective pipeline of educators.

We’re fighting for additional resources to train and hire teachers in hard-to-fill areas, including special education and multilingual education.

And we’re empowering teachers to focus on teaching by providing students access to better mental health support. In addition to all the vital work you do, you should not be expected to also serve as your schools’ counselors or psychologists; yet you understand that the well-being of your students directly impacts their learning.

I’m proud President Biden has secured unprecedented, bipartisan investments to build safe and healthy schools, including by training and hiring more school-based mental health professionals. As a result, the number of counselors in our schools is up 10%, and the number of social workers has jumped 48% since before the pandemic.

As a first-year teacher, I was interviewed by a local reporter in my hometown. I told her, “I was really blessed” to enter the teaching profession. I knew then what I know now: Teaching is the best profession. My love for teaching is inseparable from my admiration and respect for the people drawn to this work.

So, let’s give you — our teachers — a raise. Let’s lift up your profession. And let’s show you the respect you deserve. Let that journey begin with renewed commitment today!

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