Teacher Appreciation During a Pandemic

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May 18, 2020

It’s a strange word, isn’t it? “Appreciation.” What does it mean to be appreciated as a professional? We have heard it quite a bit this month and throughout this pandemic. We appreciate all of the hard work and sacrifice of our medical professionals. We appreciate the dedication of our educators and school staff members.
And sometimes the appreciation is genuine and loving and feels truly personal, like when your administrator writes you a note about how much they value your work, or calls you to thank you for your support with a student. But sometimes it falls flat, leaving us wondering if what we do really matters, and if the people appreciating us actually know who we are, what we do and what we are worth.
Recently, I came across this piece in Forbes. In it, the author makes some incredibly salient points about what it means to actually show appreciation to our educators, including this one that stopped me mid-sip of iced tea to read and re-read: Respect isn't merely the way you treat people — respect is the way you value their expertise.” Whew. Isn’t that just ALL the truth, right there? It’s not about a week full of donuts in the staff lounge or (more recently) yard signs and generic Twitter shout-outs. It’s about respect for educators — as a whole, but also as unique individuals — as having expertise that matters and is valued.
And now — as we begin to make plans to re-enter school in the fall — wouldn’t this be the time and place for teacher and school staff expertise? Wouldn’t their expertise and innovative thinking be even more valuable? When COVID-19 hit, our elected officials and school leaders deferred to medical and scientific experts because their expertise was valued and respected. We needed them, and still do. So it stands to reason that as we figure out what school should/would/could look like, we would ask the experts.
I recently was disappointed to see that in New York decisions have been made to “reimagine” education in partnership with Bill Gates. There has also been a task force put together which — seemingly — has very few classroom educators on it. I know educators in New York, and especially in the state’s largest school district in New York City, are dismayed, and I join them in calling for more teacher expertise in this “reimagining.” I am proud that my own governor has been asking for and listening to teacher voices throughout this crisis, and I would hope those thoughtful partnerships would continue as we work together to reopen our schools. It is the right and logical thing to do, and more importantly, is what is best for our students.
Teachers, counselors and educators of all titles have been faced with seemingly insurmountable challenges over the last few months, and they have met them with creativity, innovation, perseverance and definitely some tears of frustration.
They have been faced with questions like:
  • How can we change our focus to reach our kids?
  • Which kids need more from me? Which kids need less?
  • What can I do to support families right now?
  • What really matters? What doesn’t matter at all?
These questions are not new to us, but maybe they got lost somewhere in the shuffle of everything we’ve been told matters so much — testing, evaluations, accountability, record-keeping, and on and on. We are now faced with the opportunity to meet this challenge with new thinking and a focus on what our students and families need, so we as educators must be involved in crafting these changes. We cannot be left out of conversations about our students, our classrooms and our livelihoods. We must be appreciated not just for our work, but for the expertise from which that work stems.
To close, I want to share with you my belated Teacher Appreciation Week hopes for our state’s educators: 
  • I hope you really do feel appreciated for all of the work you do.
  • I hope you know your work is valuable.
  • I hope you know you are enough — and you are doing enough. 
  • I hope you realize how much face-to-face, in-person classroom instruction matters because of you. 
  • I hope you know how lucky Michigan parents (like me!) are to have you to teach and guide their children. 
  • I hope you feel heard and seen and listened to. 
  • I hope you know how important your expertise and experience are, especially now, and that your school, district and state leaders know it, too.
  • And MOST OF ALL, I hope all of these things are true for the other 51 weeks of the year, as well. 
Image created by 2020 Wisconsin Teacher of the Year Erin McCarthy; shared with permission.

About Cara Lougheed: I am a white, straight, cis-gender, non-disabled, married, middle class woman with 21 years of classroom experience in a suburban public school district in occupied Anishinabewaki land. My pronouns are she/her/hers. Anything you find here is based on my perspective, but I acknowledge that perspective has been limited by my experiences, choices, biases (implicit & not), and the unearned privilege I have had in my life. I hope to learn and grow from my colleagues across the state in the coming months as your Michigan Teacher of the Year.
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