Teacher Appreciation -- More Than Just a Week?

There have been countless wonderful tributes to teachers over the course of this Teacher Appreciation Week. Like many others who have given shout outs to teachers this week -- I've thought of Mr. Swift and Ms. Gaffney -- teachers who made a huge difference in my life. Teachers deserve these accolades and more.

There is nothing nobler than to be a teacher -- it is an ongoing act of service that empowers our children and shapes our future. In return, the primary things teachers request are the tools, time and trust they need to do their jobs.

Teachers have undoubtedly welcomed the cease-fire this week from the attacks and blanket condemnation that frequently are leveled at our profession. In these final moments of Teacher Appreciation Week, I'm thinking ahead to the weeks ahead. My hope is that teachers will get the support and respect they need and deserve to help their students succeed -- not just this one week, but throughout the year.

Teaching is a crucial job in this country, but it is also a hugely complex and challenging profession. Neither the support nor the compensation given matches the skills needed or the attendant challenges. Not surprisingly, large numbers of teachers say they are likely to leave teaching for another occupation. Teachers are routinely blamed for all the shortcomings in our schools, but are rarely given a say in the investment, research and development needed to improve performance. The austerity caused by years of budget cuts is real -- close to 300,000 educator jobs have been lost since 2008, at the same time more children have become poor, stressed and needy -- requiring even more from schools stretched thin. Despite monumental challenges, teachers give it their all every day in their classrooms, trying to make a difference in the lives of their students.

Just how pervasive the depreciation of teachers has gotten was driven home last week when anti-teacher antagonism was splashed across a billboard for a fashion company. The billboard pitted "teachers' rights vs. students' rights," as if this were somehow an either/or proposition, and it drove viewers to a website that poses questions such as: "Should under-performing teachers be protected?"

The perverse suggestion that teachers are somehow anti-child seems to be leveled more often lately, as does the claim that there is a movement afoot to protect "bad" teachers. Such assertions are bandied about casually, becoming part of the ugly, derogatory patois of the chattering classes and one-time school chancellors turned edu-profiteers. Happy Teacher Appreciation Week, indeed.

Profiteers eyeing the multi-billion dollar education "market" condition their success on convincing the public that teachers and their unions are "problems" that they can solve with their get-tough approach. They peddle what you might call the "Rule of One": Critics point to a single dedicated teacher, succeeding against great odds, but suggest that the vast majority of teachers are nothing like this. Or, conversely, they point to one bad apple -- a teacher with no business being in the classroom -- and offer this as evidence of an epidemic of such teachers. Neither "rule" holds up.

Should we do more to ensure that if someone can't teach, he or she shouldn't? Of course -- and, frankly, the AFT has. But it's infuriating that the canard of the "bad teacher" obscures the amazing work that most teachers do, often going without any notice. Much good is happening in our schools -- and even more good things could be happening if this campaign against our public schools and the teachers who work in them shifted into neutral or, better yet, reverse. It's hard to make sense of critics who proclaim the importance of teachers at the same time they bash them. Who do they think is going to choose this profession if they continue denigrating it? You can't build a profession at the same time you're tearing it down.

What would be appropriate ways to show appreciation for teachers? Honor their motivations and dedication. Give them voice in decisions affecting teaching and learning. Pay them a decent wage. Back off the fixation with testing, and allow teachers to help students master and apply concepts, unleash their creativity and think critically. Ensure there are adequate resources to help all children succeed. This week, Gov. Daniel Malloy and state legislators in Connecticut rejected attempts by special interests to pit students against their teachers, instead passing an education reform plan that aims to improve Connecticut's public schools by, in part, affirming the value of the teachers who commit themselves to helping their students succeed.

Teacher Appreciation Week soon will be over. Will America's teachers continue to be subjected to degradation and prevented from having a meaningful say in their profession? Or will their dedication and desire to help kids be respected? Will policymakers and pundits realize that working with teachers is the only way to improve teaching and learning? Teachers will return to their students and classrooms as they do every school day. Let's hope the appreciation expressed this week will be followed by the support and respect teachers need to help their students succeed.