On Thursday, January 12, thousands of teachers across the nation will receive appreciation phone calls from the Department of Education. These educators were nominated by their colleagues, parents, and students to receive a call. As a Teaching Ambassador Fellow, I had a chance to read the comments stating why each educator deserved personalized appreciation.
“He has been a beacon of light and hope for my daughter who sometimes struggles but has so much to offer the world. He challenges and educates, but most of all he cares.”
“She is tirelessly dedicated to serving some of the most historically underserved students in our school system, very high needs, minority special education students. She is a true advocate for justice and equity!”
Some nominators addressed their nominees directly:
“You have played one of the greatest roles in my life both as an educator and a friend. The relationship you built with me in sixth grade pushed me to be a hardworking student and always do my best. You were also a big reason for me choosing this career path. I can’t thank you enough for all you have done for me throughout my life.”
Reading these comments was inspirational, but at the same time created a dilemma of approach. Educators often perceive ourselves to be self-sacrificing, self-effacing servants whose good work necessarily goes unnoticed. This perception matches our daily experience, which includes constant attention to youth needing our help, ceaseless problem-solving, recess duty in the cold, and hours without a bathroom break. Teachers will never be free of these demands.
Yet, self-sacrifice and self-effacement are hardly the best approaches to demonstrating our worth. Educators are pillars of society; we support the future. We must articulate our value and share with policymakers and our communities the important, progressive work we are doing in our classrooms every single day. Otherwise, those policymakers and the public will not ever see us as more than sacrificial, invisible worker bees. We have to begin by appreciating ourselves, calling out the positives we see around us, and lifting up each other.
Humility does not serve without a voice, and strategic advocacy does not have to be arrogant. To this end I’m issuing to educators a call to conviction: Cultivate a mindset of professionalism, and believe in your own agency beyond your classroom walls. We must start to see ourselves as the builders of society and only then will others follow. We have worked hard for our expertise, our continued development, and the success of future generations. Now is the time to own that work.
At its core, appreciation is a principle rather than an action. And while I look forward to phoning educators for Educator Appreciation Week, I’m even more enthusiastic about demonstrating this conviction from inside my classroom and beyond: the work of educators matters.
Anna E. Baldwin teaches English at Arlee High School on the Flathead Indian Reservation in Montana. She is a 2016-2017 Teaching Ambassador Fellow as well as the 2014 Montana Teacher of the Year.