A Different Perspective on Teacher Appreciation

May 8, 2014
Open book in a classroom setting

While working on ideas for my blog, I realized that May 5-9 was Teacher Appreciation Week. So I took a break from my idea exploration to explore some reflections on teacher appreciation.

According to Merriam-Webster, one definition for appreciation is "a feeling of being grateful for something." This definition is well-represented in the Teacher Appreciation Week sentiments. Many online postings share personal stories, expressing gratitude for individual teachers who have influenced their lives. Many give thanks for the tireless energy, for the unfaltering dedication, for the warmth, empathy, and care that teachers exhibit every day for the benefit of their students. Many thank teachers for their contributions and sacrifices for the betterment of society.

A second definition says appreciation is "an ability to understand the worth, quality, or importance of something." Again, one finds a plethora of postings recognizing the importance of teaching and teachers to our children's futures, to our economic development, to our society in general, to our quality of life; and to our prominence in the world community. Famous quotations extol the value of education. The evidence shows that we understand the importance of teaching.

The third dictionary definition is the one on which we may need a little enlightenment: "Full awareness or understanding of something." Three decades as a public school educator allowed me to see teaching from the inside. My understanding of teaching is further enhanced by being both the spouse and the father of public school teachers. I know that teaching is not a 9:00 to 3:00 job and that teachers do not enter the profession for summer vacations. In fact, a recent survey showed that 73% of K-12 teachers went into the profession because they wanted to make a difference in children's lives. How many other professions can boast such noble motivation?

Another survey revealed that 62 percent of teachers say they have more students "with behavioral problems that interfere with teaching" than in the past. While most of us comprehend that behavioral challenges are significantly greater than in the past, few in the general public have a "full awareness or understanding" of what this means. Every week in my Nonviolent Crisis Intervention® classes I meet teachers who know exactly what it means. They are teachers who are frequently experience these "behavioral problems." Many of these behavior challenges occur with students who, for a variety of reasons, are unable to control their own emotions and behaviors.

How many of us comprehend the level of verbal and physical abuse that some teachers regularly face? As we reflect on the statistics, how many of us envision an incident—like the one shared by a teacher in my class last month—in which her wrist was broken when a student jumped on her back? How many think "behavior problems" might include a teacher being bitten by a high school student? Being hit with a chair? Being choked by the same student that the teacher has worked so hard to help learn and fit in socially?

Almost every week teachers share stories like these in my classes. They come to the program to learn how to avoid and deescalate aggressive situations. They come to learn how to keep themselves and others safe. But mostly, they come to learn how to help the students who haven't yet learned how to help themselves. They come to learn so that they can return to provide better care for those same students who have caused them harm. They come because they truly want to make a difference in the lives of those children.

Let's return to those multiple definitions of the word "appreciation." As I reflect on these definitions, I realize that the more I fully understand something, the more I am able to comprehend its worth, and the greater are my feelings of gratitude.

How about you? How will you express your gratitude to a teacher during Teacher Appreciation Week—and every week?