Teacher Appreciation Week kind of irks me.
Don’t get me wrong. I love being appreciated. I continue to treasure every single note and email from my students and their parents, and I still reread them regularly. Those words truly make me feel like I achieved my deepest desires as a high school teacher: to make a difference in young people’s lives.
I understand that Teacher Appreciation Week is a kind, genuine effort to publicly demonstrate and recognize the hard and influential work of our nation’s educators. Many thoughtful hours of parent planning go into celebrating a school’s teachers, and the week often serves as a way for teachers and parents to connect on a purely positive level, which is important for building and maintaining the relationship between two groups of people critically involved in students’ education.
I myself have now entered the stage of life where I’m a room parent cutting out paper hearts to show my kids’ preschool teachers how much they mean to my family – and I absolutely mean it and am glad I have the opportunity to do so.
At the same time, I also think my kids’ educators, those from early childhood to college professors, should be paid more competitive salaries, worthy of their professionalism and craft.
According to The Teacher Salary Project, “teachers make 14% less than people in other professions that require similar levels of education” and the average starting salary is $39,000. Yet teachers work an average of ten hours a day and annual salaries increases are typically only a few hundred dollars. There are no bonuses or promotions, which is why the average salary after 25 years in the classroom is only $67,000.
In America, we want to hold educators accountable. I absolutely believe that’s an essential component of revising our profession, along with revising the recruitment and training of new teachers. But who wants to enter a profession known for being overworked and underpaid?
We – American citizens – shouldn’t show our appreciation during one given week in a year. Teacher Appreciation Week should be called Payday, and it should happen every two weeks of a school year.
What if, alongside our banners that say “We Love Our Teachers,” we also add, “And We Should Pay Them More”? What if, at the end of a thoughtful note, we also tell our teachers that we have written to our local school board members or state officials demanding an increase in their salary? What if, instead of hosting a breakfast, we host a community event to discuss how to take action on improving teacher pay?
Let’s make teachers know they are appreciated. We can tell them every two weeks, when they receive the paycheck worthy of their value.