Is Teacher Appreciation Week Really a Good Idea?
May 3, 2022
Let’s appreciate and recognize our teachers throughout the school year.
When I was a principal, I lived close to the school that I led and often saw students’ caregivers at the grocery store, gas station, and local park. It was always a treat to run into them because, very often, they would smile and say, “Tom, we just love New City School.” Hearing those comments about my school made my day—even though they were technically untrue.
You see, they didn’t love New City School in the traditional sense. The school was simply a building, and even though it was beautiful, its architecture is hardly what elicited their praise. When parents said that they loved New City School, they were really communicating that their child had a wonderful teacher, preceded by just-as-terrific teachers. It was the skill, effort, and unsurpassed care of these teachers that yielded such devotion from the school community.
Now take a moment to reflect on the teachers who made a difference in your life. My guess is that a few names or faces will quickly come to mind. Personally, I owe so much to Mrs. Mayfield, my 1st grade teacher at Monroe School in St. Louis. She saw my potential, even though I was often an attention-challenged and talkative student. Mrs. Mayfield had retired by the time I became a principal, so I tracked her down in the phonebook, gave her a call, and took her out to lunch. It was a treat to hear her reflections on teaching—and that she remembered me from so many years prior. (To be fair, she recalled that I had unrealized potential.)
Thank goodness for educators like Mrs. Mayfield. As a novice principal, she helped me understand that my job was to help teachers grow and learn; if I did that, then everyone would thrive.
Show Unwavering Appreciation
Considering my admiration for the tireless work that teachers do day in and day out, you might think that I would be excited about Teacher Appreciation Week. But I’m not.
I do believe that we should celebrate teachers this week—offering them applause, decadent treats, and thank-you gifts—but what about the other 51 weeks of the year? It’s too easy to celebrate, hug, and high-five teachers for these five school days and then revert back to business as usual for the rest of the year.
But is “business as usual” how we really want to operate? According to an Education Week survey, “91 percent of teachers say they experience job-related stress sometimes, frequently, or always,” yet “only 2 percent of teachers say there’s nothing their school or district could do to help relieve their stress.” In February, the NEA stated that a staggering 55 percent of educators are thinking about leaving the profession earlier than planned. No, those numbers aren’t misprints: 91 percent, 2 percent, and 55 percent.
The message underlying the data is that we need to recognize the hard work that teachers do throughout the year, all 52 weeks of it. And we should do more than simply appreciate them—we should consciously work to reduce their stress and make their jobs more tenable (note that I did not say “easy;” teaching is never easy).
Implement the 5:1 Ratio
Besides introducing structural changes to teachers’ working conditions and schedules, how do you show them your appreciation and support? Do your teachers know how much you value their efforts and skills? Hopefully you are nodding and thinking, Well, of course they know. But how do they know?
When was the last time that you privately thanked a teacher for their efforts—even if they weren’t successful—and when was the last time that you publicly applauded a teacher for making a positive difference in kids’ lives? However often you do this, you should do it more.
I often talk about the importance of the 5:1 ratio, the idea that a good relationship requires five positive interactions to every one negative interaction. Although designed for personal relationships, the 5:1 ratio is equally applicable to the context of schools.
Take a few minutes to envision walking through the hallways in your school, thinking of who works where in the building, and then try to remember the last time you offered each teacher specific praise. It’s easy to applaud the teachers we know best, those with a proven track record, and maybe even those whose classrooms we routinely pass—but what about the others? We should set a 5:1 goal for every adult in the building (just as our teachers should set it for every student in their class). The positives need to be substantive: “It was great to see how intently the students were working on their report,” “I appreciate how calm you remained despite Mrs. Carp’s complaints,” or “The student work displayed on your walls presents such an inclusive tone of success!”
Establish Appreciation as a Habit
In his book The Power of Habit (Random House, 2014), Charles Duhigg says that habits are “the choices that all of us deliberately make at some point, and then stop thinking about but continue to do each day.” So, what about supporting our teachers by getting into the habit of writing three handwritten thank-you notes (yes, handwritten!) each afternoon before you leave the building? Why not—as I wrote recently—create a routine of beginning every staff and team meeting with a show of gratitude? Share something you’re grateful for as a leader or ask your staff to turn to a partner and express something that happened that week that they’re grateful for. It shouldn’t take an official event like Teacher Appreciation Week for us to give meaningful and positive praise to our colleagues.
Through my recent work on empathy, I’ve learned that besides expressing gratitude, visibly listening (showing your attentiveness by maintaining eye contact and ignoring your phone) sets a tone of respect and care. Taking the time to ask questions about what teachers need and how you can help and taking the time to listen—two different behaviors—lets teachers know that they are appreciated.
Maybe if we didn’t have Teacher Appreciation Week, we would be encouraged to celebrate teachers 365 days a year. They deserve it!
This article was written by Tom for the ASCD In Service blog. The original post can be seen here.