May 1-5 or May 8-12, depending on what calendar you look at or what internet search you do for “Teacher Appreciation Week,” is the special time of year that we honor the work of our nation’s educators. Americans started celebrating National Teacher Day in 1953 after Eleanor Roosevelt persuaded Congress to set aside a day to recognize the hard work of the nation’s teaching force. It didn’t become an officially recognized day until 1980 when national teacher organizations began lobbying elected officials to add the day to the calendar. The purpose: a day of honoring teachers and recognizing the lasting contributions they make to our lives.
It seems funny to me that it would take 27 years to get Congress to recognize educators with an official day of honor, but they do like to drag their feet a bit. It’s funny because without teachers, there’d be no legislators. In fact, there’d be not much of anyone. Teachers are the cornerstone of an educated, thriving democracy. We educate the engineers that build our homes, the doctors that save our lives, the armed forces that defend us, the farmers who feed us, the _______ who ________ us. Regardless if they are public or private educators, teachers shape every facet of our society. It is a career worth honoring.
Five years after the proclamation of National Teacher Day, the National Parent Teacher Association (NPTA) declared that the entire first full week of May would be known as Teacher Appreciation Week. What a phenomenal thing the NPTA did! In one action they changed the way a nation would honor and celebrate teachers.
Compared to other nations we were a bit behind in setting aside a day to honor our teachers. China began honoring teachers with a national day in 1931, and Russia had an official day in 1965. Thailand declared January 16th each year as a school holiday to honor their educators. Iran began acknowledging the work of teachers the same year as the USA, only after the assassination of one its most revered teachers. Thankfully, we were ahead of the game when it comes to world wide celebrations. UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) declared October 5th as World Teachers’ Day. A few years ago here in South Carolina, Governor Nikki Haley made May “Teacher Appreciation Month.” Businesses around the state followed suit in the statewide celebration (Bojangles is one of these- they offer free sweet tea to teachers all month long!)
Even with the entire world recognizing the need to celebrate this noble profession, I still hear grumblings from non-educators about celebrating us. “We don’t get a week for doing our jobs,” they say. “You can celebrate yourself all summer,” they say. “You can celebrate at 3pm while the rest of us work til 5,” they say. These kinds of comments, while not often heard out loud in public, are still commonplace in the American psyche. Those without students in school, those who had bad school experiences, or those who have forgotten the work of their educators, often scoff at the idea of honoring teachers. Yes, I believe the tide is turning in many aspects regarding the nation’s reverence and respect for the teaching profession, but we certainly have a long way to go.
As the annual USA Teacher Appreciation Week approaches this year, let me remind you of what good teachers do to make sure that the future of America is bright, and why you should appreciate teachers.
- We never stop learning. Every student requires new knowledge, a new strategy, a new plan for learning. We collaborate with one another, we constantly seek new ideas, and we spend countless hours researching the latest, coolest, most effective ways to deliver instruction. We pay for classes, take courses, attend conferences, read books, read books, and read more books so that students receive the best instruction possible.
- We never ever stop working. Teaching is an around the clock career. We go to sleep thinking about it. We wake up thinking about it. It haunts us in the shower, on vacation, and even as we pray. It never leaves us. Even if we try to leave it, it finds us and wrestles us into submission… It isn’t what we do. It’s who we are. Summers off? Are you kidding? That’s just when we work for free!
- We never stop advocating. We know in our hearts what is best for children and we never stop trying to get it. We ask our administrators to make school and district decisions that are in favor of students. We write letters and make calls to our legislators before they pass laws so that they know exactly the effect their work has on kids. We blog, Facebook, tweet, and we celebrate our work in the public square so that we can let the world know about the amazing work we do.
- We never stop loving. Your child becomes our child. We take them all, even the “bad” ones as if we were their own parents. We celebrate every student achievement, and we cry at every defeat. We grieve when our students hurt, and we smile when they are happy. We laugh with them. We dance with them. We sing with them. We care for them. We LOVE them no matter what even when the love isn’t returned.
Regardless of how you do it- a gift card, a small surprise, a free lunch, or even a mug of candy, make sure to take a moment this May to honor those who give it their all for your students, your children, and the future generations of our country.