Years later, I became a teacher and although I never received enough presents to fill a garbage bag, I certainly experienced a lot of pomp and circumstance during this week. And I have to say: Teacher Appreciation Week makes me uncomfortable. It made me uncomfortable when I was teaching, and it makes me uncomfortable now as I think about policies and systems that can help to professionalize teaching.
This will be no small feat. Building a culture that appreciates teachers and professionalizes their work requires, among other things, creating systems that give them options for career growth while staying in the classroom (if they choose), tailored professional development to support their work, and opportunities to be rewarded for their successes. Fortunately, many districts are working to implement these types of systems.
Take, for example, D.C. Public Schools’ Leadership Initiative for Teachers (LIFT), a program that enables teachers to take part in leadership roles at every stage in their careers. LIFT is revolutionary in that teachers can advance from step one of the continuum, “teacher,” through step five, “expert teacher,” earning promotions and bonuses along the way without stopping what most educators enjoy most: teaching. Through LIFT, teachers can take advantage of leadership opportunities ranging from education policy fellowships to curriculum development posts. Promisingly, DCPS is not the only district thinking critically about teacher career ladders. Pittsburgh Public Schools is another example of a district that is working on differentiating teacher roles and connecting compensation bonuses to the various leadership positions.
Teaching is a demanding, difficult profession, and it is remarkable when an individual can do it well. Most everyone can point to one, if not multiple, teacher(s) who inspired their lives. I’d like to think that as my mother brings home her 35th garbage bag this Friday, many of her current and former students see her in this light; but let’s challenge ourselves to think about other ways to appreciate our teachers like my mother or your favorite former teacher. It’s time our nation’s gratitude for teachers extends beyond apples and magnets to that of a culture of appreciation that teachers can experience every day.
Kaitlin Pennington, guest blogger, is vice president of communications and outreach for YEP-DC and an education policy analyst at a think tank. She can be reached at kaitlin(dot)pennington(at)gmail(dot)com.