What Would it Take to Really Appreciate Teachers?

Two summers ago I found myself cleaning old books out of the battered lockers in my new classroom. As I moved the crumbling textbooks and picture books I uncovered lots and lots of mouse droppings. I'm a bit squeamish, so my skin crawled. But I also felt angry. What does this say, I thought to myself, about the way I'm valued by society as a teacher?

Source: Booksthroughbars.org
My next thought was a corrective to this selfish and self-righteous indignation. Cleaning mouse droppings out of an old locker isn't just about me as a teacher. It's really about the kids I'm choosing to teach. I teach in a classroom covered in mouse droppings, because I teach in a school in Central Harlem. I teach children who are all Black or brown. I teach kids who mostly come from the nearby housing projects, homeless shelters, and domestic violence shelters. My worth as a teacher is directly tied to the (perceived) worth of the children and families that I serve to our society.

When I think about teacher appreciation this week, the memory of the mouse droppings comes to mind. What I realize is that in order to feel truly appreciated, I need the community I serve to be appreciated. I'm tired of that fact that my kids and their families are over-policed and under-served in so many ways. I'm tired of a system that will kick a student's family out of a homeless shelter, or remove a student from their mom, because, "rules." But then that same system hardly lifts a finger to support these kids after their lives are completely disrupted.

I'm tired of using DonorsChoose to keep up with wealthier schools - public and private - on the Upper West Side or in Scarsdale. I'm tired of white families who will go to any length to keep their kids away from kids like my students. I want to say, "If they only met my students they would see..." But f- that, because my kids shouldn't have to prove their worth! My kids are brilliant. My kids are creative. My kids are tenacious. My kids are kids! They are worthy of a sparkling clean school, and brand new Chromebooks, and a quality education, period.

Appreciating teachers means changing our collective thinking in a lot of ways. We need to do better at appreciating work that's seen as "women's work." We need to appreciate the value of education as a profession, but also a craft. We need to stop talking about spending on education compared to other countries, or historical U.S. spending, but in relation to our priorities. In other words, if we're willing to spend 600 billion dollars on our military, then we clearly have money to spend if we decide something is important enough.

Recently the news has been filled with stories of teachers demanding higher salaries and more funding for education. This may appear greedy or selfish to the uninformed. But ultimately these demands are not just for us, but for our students. The new books, new furniture, new gym, or whatever else we're asking for, are for our students. If we truly appreciated kids, particularly kids of color, we teachers would feel a whole lot more appreciated as well.


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