Teacher Appreciation Week 2022: There Has Never Been a More Important Time to Support Teachers

“Teacher Appreciation Week” – like so much of our calendar – is a reminder of something that ought not be restricted to a week or a day.  Teacher Appreciation Week during a third consecutive COVID school year?  That should be a reminder that we owe our teachers and those who care for our children much more than “appreciation”…

I have been in the field of Jewish day school since 2005 and the field of Jewish education since 1997.  Stress, fatigue, under-appreciation, burnout – these factors have (sadly) always been present (as they have been in almost all forms of education, service work and nonprofits).  The days of the 30-year teacher and/or administrator have been ending in slow motion for years and decades, but the exodus we are experiencing since COVID is unprecedented and potentially cataclysmic.

As Danna Thomas put it earlier this year:

We are accustomed to feelings of uncertainty while simultaneously putting on a brave face as we continue to show up day in and day out. Long before the COVID-19 pandemic, teachers were tasked with supporting students in the midst of the most seemingly insurmountable obstacles. And, long before the COVID-19 pandemic, there was an educator burnout pandemic.

We know that stress and burnout are not new phenomena to educators, but unfortunately they’re getting worse.  When teacher burnout increases, teaching quality decreases, which results in less effective classroom management and reduced student engagement. When teacher stress increases, it contributes to student stress, which has been linked to learning and mental health problems.

We have been both lucky and blessed at OJCS, pre-pandemic and during COVID, with a significant number of veteran teachers and administrators who continue to make OJCS their address for their love of children and their passion for teaching, year after year.  But that doesn’t mean that the last few years have not taken their toll.  They have.  And it certainly doesn’t mean that we should take their commitment and dedication for granted.  We shouldn’t.  What it means – to me – is that the small things that truly demonstrate “appreciation” matter now, more than ever.

With Teacher Appreciation Week launching next week, during which our Admin, PTA and Board eagerly look forward to celebrating and spoiling our teachers, you can make a huge difference to the overall wellbeing of our school by simply picking an item from below (aggregated from lots of blog posts) and making a teacher’s day:

  • A personalized note or email
  • A homemade craft
  • Caffeine
  • A hot meal
  • Gift cards
  • Plants
  • A personalized thank-you sign
  • Small treasures
  • Something special that reminds a teacher of his/her student(s)
  • Alcohol (but check first!)
  • Show up for school!
  • Spa treatment
  • Experiential gifts (like a remote yoga or dance class)
  • Donations to a dream project
  • Year-Round Advocacy

My personal suggestion?  Absolutely send gift cards and post creatively on social media.  Buy ads in yearbooks, post lawns signs and lead parades.  Do any and all of the above list.  Express your appreciation for all the things your child(ren)’s teacher(s) have done to make in-person, hyflex and distance learning as successful as it has been.  Please.

But if you want to go the extra mile this year?  Let’s also try assuming the best of our teachers – even when they have difficult truths to share.  Give them the benefit of the doubt – even when they don’t communicate as well as they could.  Treat them as partners – even when they make mistakes.  Let’s not simply tell our teachers that we appreciate them; let’s actually appreciate them.

Please be on the lookout for this year’s Annual Parent Survey, which will be emailed to you no later than Monday and due back no later than May 13th!

A quick thought about teachers as we head into February Break…

One of my favorite books is Teaching & Religious Imagination by Maria Harris.  It is a wonderful book and I am grateful to my doctoral comps all those years ago for allowing me to become familiar with it.  What I love about it, is how it describes secular teaching in religious language. The very act of teaching – regardless of subject or location – is a religious act.  This is not just beautiful imagery, which it is, but an important truth to acknowledge as we head into another transition – this time from hyflex, back to in-person learning.

Those of us who have been charged with the sacred task of providing a child with an education recognize and are humbled by that holy responsibility.  It matters not in a school whether we are the teacher of prayer or the teacher of math or the teacher of French or the teacher of badminton.  Education is interactional and God can be found in the quality of our relationships.  How we treat our students and each other matters.

Teachers, like families, are looking forward to a much-needed break from the challenges and burdens of having pivoted from in-person learning to Winter Break to distance learning to hyflex learning to February Break; with a final two-week phasing out of hyflex as the circle rounds back to in-person.  Please know that just as it is vitally important that we find the opportunity to share the good with parents about their children, I cannot tell you how impactful it is when a parent shares something nice about or directly to a teacher.  These acts of lovingkindness are what sustains even the most dedicated of teachers during inevitable times of stress.  Thank you to all who do take the time…your kindness matters.

We are long past the point of predictions when the truest thing is our inability to know what is to come.  We know that when we return from break that the sun will rise on each new day.  We are hopeful for better/easier days, but prepared for all possibilities.  I am as anxious and excited as anyone to see what is to come.  If the saying, “Man plans; God laughs,” is true, I guess we’ll see who is laughing in the weeks to come.

In the meanwhile, we wish all our OJCS Families a safe, restful, joyous and meaningful February Break.

#ShortestBlogEver #You’reWelcome

Pandemic Faculty Appreciation Week 2.0

With all the “seconds” we are experiencing this spring during our current distance learning pivot, celebrating Teacher Appreciation Week has been among the most appropriate and depressing.  Depressing because instead of being able to directly hand our tokens of appreciation to our teachers and to take moments to directly express our thanks and to celebrate all that they do and all of who they are, we’ve had to again resort to gift cards and home deliveries and video tributes (thanks to all of you who took the time to offer your own!).  Appropriate, because nothing fosters appreciation for teachers like getting a birds-eye view from the vantage of distance learning…

As much as we would all like to know what is coming next – when will this lockdown end and when will we be permitted to return to in-person learning – today marked the end of Teacher Appreciation Week.  How did we spend it?

Have you taken an opportunity to show appreciation for your child(ren)’s teacher(s) yet this week?  Don’t worry if you haven’t…it is never too late!

Pump up this great “Teacher Appreciation Week” playlist, pick an item from below (aggregated from lots of blog posts) and make a teacher’s day:

  • A personalized note or email
  • A homemade craft
  • Caffeine
  • A hot meal
  • Gift cards
  • Plants
  • A personalized thank-you sign
  • Small treasures
  • Something special that reminds a teacher of his/her student(s)
  • Alcohol (but check first!)
  • Show up for school!
  • Spa treatment
  • Experiential gifts (like a remote yoga or dance class)
  • Donations to a dream project
  • Year-Round Advocacy

My personal suggestion?  Absolutely send gift cards and post creatively on social media.  Buy ads in yearbooks, post lawns signs and lead parades.  Do any and all of the above list.  Express your appreciation for all the things your child(ren)’s teacher(s) have done to make hyflex and distance learning as successful as it has been.  Please.

But let’s also try assuming the best of our teachers – even when they have difficult truths to share.  Give them the benefit of the doubt – even when they don’t communicate as well as they could.  Treat them as partners – even when they make mistakes.  Let’s not simply tell our teachers that we appreciate them; let’s actually appreciate them.

I look forward to sharing results from the Annual Parent Survey next week.  If you have NOT yet contributed and you want your results included, please fill yours out by Monday, May 10th.  Please and thank you!

If You Really Want to Appreciate Teachers, Give Them the Benefit of the Doubt.

We will be celebrating “Faculty Appreciation Week” next week and with the overwhelming majority of schools making their ways through their versions of distance learning we will – rightfully – hear all the ways that having school at home (which is not homeschooling) has brought newfound appreciation for all the things that teachers do to facilitate learning, inspire growth, foster imagination, support development, catalyze innovation, nurture spirits and souls and otherwise care for and love their children.  We will prepare treats, send gift e-cards and even invite our students to capture their messages of appreciation.  And we should!  But if we genuinely want to show our appreciation for faculty, perhaps we should give them the one gift they most surely want and have most truly earned – the benefit of the doubt.

I wrote a torrent of words (even for me) last week about all the ways we should carry the lessons of distance learning forward to school; that there are important lessons and platforms and pedagogies and ideas that should carry forward into school whenever we do return.  We don’t want to go back to school, we want to go forward.  But in terms of teacher appreciation, I would argue the opposite.  The lesson we want to learn from distance learning about appreciating and valuing teachers is that we actually do want to go back – way back – to a time when we gave our teachers the benefit of the doubt.

Teachers are not infallible.  Teachers make mistakes.  Teachers can do the wrong thing.  Giving teachers the benefit of the doubt doesn’t mean blind faith.  Giving teachers the benefit of the doubt doesn’t mean parents shouldn’t advocate for their children.  Giving teachers the benefit of the doubt doesn’t meant that sometimes parents don’t have a better solution to an issue than their teachers.  The best of schools foster healthy parent-teacher relationships explicitly because of these truths.  Both partners are required to produce the best results.  But somewhere in between my time as a student to my time as an educator, the culture changed.  Respect for teachers went from being automatic to being earned to being ignored.

So this year for “Teacher Appreciation Week” absolutely send gift cards and post creatively on social media.  Buy ads in yearbooks, post lawns signs and lead parades.  Express your appreciation for all the things your child(ren)’s teacher(s) have done to make this transition to distance learning as successful as it has been.  Please.

But let’s also try assuming the best of our teachers – even when they have difficult truths to share.  Give them the benefit of the doubt – even when they don’t communicate as well as they could.  Treat them as partners – even when they make mistakes.  Let’s not simply tell our teachers that we appreciate them; let’s actually appreciate them.