Rethink Teacher Appreciation Week

Great teachers build nations. They inspire, awaken and raise our children’s expectations. They coax imaginations and lead students to discovery. Teachers shape the next generation of decision-makers.

While this work is deeply rewarding, teaching is also incredibly hard—as intellectually rigorous as it is emotionally draining. Over the next five to ten years, at least one million teachers will be eligible for retirement, roughly one third of the work force. Schools are finding it increasingly difficult to draw talented folks into a profession that, in many cases offers:

      • the 50-50 chance they won’t last through their first four years,
      •  the likelihood of underwhelming support and development,
      • a lifetime of low and moderate pay, and
      • the strong likelihood that they’ll reach a point where continuing to teach poses substantial financial hardship.

On this Teacher Appreciation Week, let’s think more meaningfully about what it means to appreciate teachers so that we build a profession that retains its best teachers and recruits the next generation of great talent.

For most teachers, Teacher Appreciation Week is a time when schools bestow small demonstration gifts to staff: mugs, reusable lunch bags with the school logo, chair massages during planning time, lunch catered by the PTA, and so on. While we value these tokens of support, it is far more important for us to reflect meaningfully on the teaching profession and consider what we can do to support great teacher leadership.

True appreciation means understanding what teachers bring to the table and creating meaningful opportunities for them to contribute to the policies and practices that affect their school communities. Let’s engage teachers in policy more directly at all levels. Boston, Massachusetts leads with a strong example. Teachers who serve as Teach Plus Fellows there produced a policy paper advocating for evaluation systems that train evaluators effectively, include peer evaluators and identify high performers. At the district level, districts could create Teacher Advisory Committees where they regularly solicit teachers’ feedback on policies and programs. At the school level, principals could create hybrid roles for teachers, which would allow master teachers to direct new teacher training, perform research on best teaching practices, or design curriculum materials without being completely removed from the classroom. Let’s create a space in which teachers can truly engage in how our schools are run. That is true teacher appreciation.

For the 16 Teaching Ambassador Fellows at the U.S. Department of Education, part of our work has focused on the RESPECT Project, a national conversation we have been having with teachers all over the country about transforming our profession. The RESPECT Project seeks to elevate the teaching profession by proposing a vision that embraces better training, richer opportunities for professional advancement, time for collaboration, higher pay, sustainable hours, and a culture of shared responsibility. We want to attract the best candidates, support our colleagues as they develop, and retain those teachers who are getting it done.

The RESPECT Project and the growing movement to elevate the teaching profession is, as one educator in Rhode Island noted, our generation’s “moon landing moment.” This is the moment when we can rally the entire country around a grand vision to comprehensively remake our education system for the 21st century.

For Teacher Appreciation week, we encourage everyone to honor our teachers by listening respectfully as teachers rethink and reshape the American education system. Let’s collaborate to find practical, community-based and student-centered ways to bring teachers to the table to weigh in on the crucial decisions that affect them and the students they serve.

Now that’s teacher appreciation.

The 2011-2012 Teaching Ambassador Fellows work with the US Department of Education to facilitate the involvement and understanding of teachers in developing and implementing policy efforts at the federal, state and local levels, to improve the likelihood of their success.


  1. What a joke! Come on Obama, you and Duncan don’t care about public education. Not voting for Obama even though I’m a democrat and a teacher. Just.Can’t.DoIt. Not after the abuse they’ve handed down to us.

  2. Please don’t forget to also show your appreciation for the paraprofessional teachers in your lives. They are teachers/educators as well and often are made to feel like second rate citizens…but what would lead teachers and students do without them?

    • EXACTLY! Thank you for your comment. I absolutely agree with your statement. As a lead teacher, the work that our paraprofessionals do on a daily basis is just as important and often lacks the deserved appreciation. One team in the eyes of our students and families.

  3. The BEST way to show our teachers the respect they deserve is to:
    – Stop the negative stereotyping.
    – Stop the hate speech against their unions.
    – Stop the constant testing, testing, testing of our children. That is not “education”.
    – Stop funding private and “non-profit” charter schools that divide our community and create major conflicts among teachers, students and their families.
    – Stop taking the side of billionaires who already possess virtually unlimited resources. They already have a massive advantage in their ability to persuade the public. Do they ALSO need the United States Department of Education to be 100% biased towards them as well?
    – Call out those public figures who engage in sleazy and slanderous hate speech against our teachers. Such talk is irresponsible, inaccurate and incendiary. For instance, when the Governor of New Jersey says that teachers in his state are “bullies” and he wants to “punch them”, Secretary Duncan should have been the first to condemn these vile remarks. Instead, I’ve heard Mr. Duncan say nothing but very positive things about this governor’s education “reform” plans, despite his increasingly vicious and mendacious attacks.

    Will some act of violence, done by a disturbed person, against one of our teachers, be the only thing that stops such shameful attacks?

    Please think about this while we acknowledge teachers this week. Thank you.

  4. Parents will never get a true grasp on what teachers go through on a daily basis. Yes, as in any profession, you will find a few not as dedicated, but for the 90% rest of them, they are spending their weekends, nights, holidays always thinking about what can they do to make it better, more interesting, get to that ONE kid they want to reach so bad!

    It’s not an 8-3 job, it’s a 24/7 job. Picking up a few extra pencils for Michael cause his mom didn’t have the time because she is working 3 jobs as it is. Or bringing an extra snack for Taylor because she lost her lunch. Whatever it is, the teachers give of themselves as well as the lessons.

    God bless all the teachers who give of themselves all the time!!

    • I am a 5th grade teacher and yes I have spent many nights, weekends, holidays, and even vacations thinking of better ways to get the point across to my students…. by it is all so rewarding when you see one of your students’ “light bulb” come on and they get it!!!! Even though we are underpaid and often criticized, I would take nothing for the profession I chose….I am truly blessed to be a teacher/mother to my 125 students….. Happy Teacher Appreciation Week to All!!!!!!!!

  5. Happy Teacher Appreciation Week!

    My mom is a retired head teacher and I know how teachers work hard to give their students a good lesson for them to learn.
    So, it is right for the teachers to have right amount of salary, bonuses and awards according to what they have done.

    Live forever and prosper!

  6. How about the President issuing a proclamation for the Teacher Appreciation Week instead of National Charter School week? That would be nice.

    • Kudos, Melissa!

      Intentionally or not, President Obama’s comments were highly disrespectful of this nation’s teachers. I hope he’s open to the other side of the story—the one we parents would sincerely and respectfully like to discuss with him.

      I’d also like to express my sincere gratitude to all of the wonderful teachers I have had in my life, from Kindergarten to Graduate School. You showed me the path in my education, and my life, and how to walk it with courage, discipline and passion. Thank you, again.

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