We’ve all seen the memes: “TEACHING: Having 100 responsibilities thrown at you at once and everyone’s screaming CATCH!” or — well, you get the picture. We all laugh and screenshot them to our teacher friends because they’re just so true — and funny. But, despite the laughs, teaching is actually an incredibly hard job. While Teacher Appreciation Week is great, we could use more support year-round.
Without it, teachers will continue to struggle — and leave: Communities across the state and country are facing serious educator shortages. While getting more teachers in the classroom, with initiatives like the Alternative Preparation Grant or the new streamlined tiered teacher licensure system, is great, we also need to support current teachers to stay. Here are a few ideas:
Share the wealth. Either pay teachers for the “extra” work they do, or hire support staff to help take work off teachers’ plates. Seriously, it’s embarrassing how little we value education in the United States. Not only are teachers and other members of school staff underpaid, when it comes to making cuts, education often takes a hit.
Instead of forcing schools to let go of great teachers, we need to invest in our schools. It’s one thing to lesson plan and grade papers but, in reality, teachers are also on multiple committees and delegated administrative tasks (none of which they are paid for.) Then they are expected to take 30+ children and not only get them to learn the state standards but become decent, functioning citizens as well. Neither teachers nor students can thrive in this environment. It’s only a matter of time before teachers burn out and students ultimately lose.
Let teachers lead. The expectations placed on teachers can be extremely overwhelming. Not only are teachers not compensated for extra tasks outside of the classroom, we also rarely get chances to offer input on the decisions that impact us and our students. Teachers actually know a lot and have ideas to strengthen our schools. Therefore, we can value and retain teachers by giving them opportunities to lead. Teacher-empowered schools give educators more say in administrative decisions, leading to more collaboration and happier teachers (which ultimately leads to more scholar success.)
Support teachers in the general education classroom. Students are dealing with a lot, and yet also have so much potential. To help all kids thrive, we need more counselors, special education teachers, English Language teachers, and others who can support our increasingly diverse learners’ unique assets and needs. We also need to set up general education teachers — who, in the meantime, are working with kids of all backgrounds and abilities on their own — to be successful. From providing more teacher assistants or education partners, to offering professional development and mentorship (which a recent report suggests may be even more important to teacher retention than promotions and salary increases), we have to make sure general education teachers have support to do their jobs well.
Give teachers a breather. Balance. At the start of every school year, teachers say their goal for the year is balance, to be able to have a life outside of school. Yet, Thanksgiving break rolls around and teachers are ready to crack, again. This is because schools do not allow for balance. Teachers are given a “lunch” and a “prep.” Yet nearly every day, those times get eaten up by meetings and miscellaneous tasks. There are days that I have actually sprinted to the copy machine and back in order to save a few minutes, or had to choose between eating lunch or going to the bathroom.
Teachers know how important our work is, yet feel undervalued (see #1), overlooked (see #2), and unsupported (#3). It’s no wonder teachers crack. To prevent this, teachers need balance — which starts with time to go to the bathroom and eat during the school day.
Despite these challenges, most teachers really want to teach. So, during Teacher Appreciation Week and beyond, advocate for real changes that will help us stay in the classroom.
Julia Brandes is a middle school language arts teacher at Academia Cesar Chavez, a charter school in East St. Paul.
WANT TO ADD YOUR VOICE?
If you’re interested in joining the discussion, add your voice to the Comment section below — or consider writing a letter or a longer-form Community Voices commentary. (For more information about Community Voices, see our Submission Guidelines.)