Teacher Appreciation

Jose Vilson Education, Jose

The last time I saw her, she was a proud teacher to students with special needs. We discussed the future of activism in education and the great work coming out of efforts we have worked on together. She has built her voice through song, social justice, and, just as important, students. This week, she informed a collection of us that her principal fired her from the profession she loved. The administration found ways to discontinue her job through her ratings, but her outspokenness did her in. Anyone in her circle is 99.999% sure of it. She’s not dead, but, as with the legions of outspoken educators fired unfairly, a piece of her heart stays within the school that let her go.

Which reminds me: don’t forget to thank each other. Teacher appreciation for real for real.

The idea of taking a step back and thanking one’s colleagues is often left to holiday parties with bagel spreads and, as is the case with K-12 educators, the first full week of May. Even then, teachers manage to not thank one another, but wait for the thanks to pour in like manna from the heavens. Most educators spend the other 348 days of the week either hoping for change or holding their breath. Some of us manage to thank our students for granting us the opportunity to teach them, but those thanks come few and far between from my purview.

In fact, I mostly hear thanks in education activist circles when someone from outside of the K-12 sphere agrees with something they like. The list of people who’ve gotten thanks includes folks like Louis C.K. and Stephen Colbert for his anti-Common Core rants to John Oliver and Christopher Hayes for their reporting (?) on the education reform-quo. As happy as I am that Matt Damon, Montel Williams, and Melissa Harris-Perry are on a particular side of things in education reform, I’m unnerved at the ways in which we forget to elevate each other explicitly.

In my travels across the country, which I’m blessed to do as a full-time K-12 teacher, I’ve come across hundreds of educators, all with different reasons for coming into the profession, and many with an undeniable kinetic energy that some call “passion.” I was also made aware of their own struggles, and the masquerading they must do just to keep themselves going to work on a regular basis. They have cancers our doctors can’t cure, heartaches their spouses refuse to alleviate, and burdens our country refuses to unload. Yet, they’re willing and able to not just wear smiles for hundreds of students a day, but a few other hats to advance the teaching profession through multiple venues. They’re doing so even when the general public distrusts them from afar, and our corporate media still narrates all the wrong things about teaching as a profession. Our politicians pay us lip service, but don’t create the political will to support educators. Yet, these teachers teach on.

For that, we must thank them.

We’ve seen “random acts of kindness” come back in vogue, and I’m learning to believe in the power of this. In the spirit of elevating the people from outside the education sphere who say what many of us believe, we should also thank each other when we do the implicit and explicit parts of our job descriptions. That’s part of the work. In the rush to build coalitions and latch onto those more popular and more monied than us, we need to acknowledge each others’ humanity and say thanks whenever we can. Even with the current challenges I’m facing in my own classroom, I also see the need to speak with (and sometimes for) the folks who don’t have the same voice as me, and, in turn, I thank them.

So let this be my thanks, my teacher appreciation, as well because without you, there is no me. But that’s the way it’s supposed to be, right?

photo c/o