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How to Support Teachers in 2021

May 07, 2021

It's sad, but true: teachers have never felt less supported, cared for, or appreciated than they do in this moment. News and media headlines proclaim that it’s the teachers who are hell-bent on keeping our kids out of school, while their district administration expects them to build a plane while simultaneously flying it, and then often criticizes the appearance of the airplane.

COVID-19 has made a bad situation worse. Roughly 50 percent of teachers regularly left the profession within five years, and that was before the pressures the pandemic placed on educators. It’s unclear what the fallout of COVID-19 will be, but no one suggests that it will boost teacher morale.

In 2020, Yale research found that the most common emotions teachers felt frequently: anxious, fearful, overwhelmed, worried, and sad. For teachers seeing students via distance learning, it has meant trying to do the impossible: keep students engaged in learning when learning multiplication on a laptop is the last thing students want to do.

For teachers seeing students in person, it has meant putting themselves at significant personal risk; the National Center for Education Statistics says that nearly 30% of teachers are at high risk of severe Covid-related illness. This doesn’t even touch on the fact that many teachers are parents themselves, and are trying to balance their own children’s distance learning schedules with managing their classrooms.. 

It’s time we stop blaming teachers for something that is beyond their control and recognize that their work atmosphere directly impacts our children’s education.

Let me let you in on a secret: no one goes into teaching for the Teacher Appreciation Week gifts. What teachers want is support. They want empathy. They want respect. While some of the working conditions are beyond a parent’s control, there are a few things we can all do to contribute to a positive working environment for educators.

1. Tell them what they’re doing right. The vast majority of the time, when a teacher hears from a parent, it’s because the parent wants to criticize them. Copious amounts of academic research demonstrates that one of the primary drivers of human behavior is positive feedback. When we do something and we get a reward or hear praise, we repeat the behavior.

What if, instead of only reaching out to our children’s teachers when something is going wrong, we send an email or a note to school that lets  a teacher know what they’re doing right?

2. Ask them what they need. Let the teachers in your life know: “We are partners in this. I respect you as a professional. I want to support you. What do you need? Supplies? Help in the classroom? Can I make copies or assemble manipulatives? Do you need a refill for your snack drawer?”

Rather than reaching out once a year with a “let me know if you need anything!”, try to be specific: “I have $20/$50/$100 to spend for your classroom right now, what would help you the most?” or “I often have two hours on Thursday afternoons ,what can I do to be of assistance to you?”

3. Send an email to your child’s principal, assistant principal, and school district. CC the teacher on the email. Tell the administrators about the fantastic job your child’s teacher is doing: “Dear Mr. Smith, I’m writing today to let you know that my child’s teacher, Ms. McMahon, is an exceptional educator.” Make sure to give a few examples of how they have positively impacted your child throughout the school year. 

In doing so, sit back and know that you have just made a teacher’s entire month. Know that the teacher printed out the letter and kept it for the future. Know that their bosses may treat them with more respect. Know that being a teacher is dang hard work, and that you just did something that cost you nothing, but made someone’s entire school year brighter.

If nothing else, the pandemic has highlighted how desperately we need high quality teachers. Teachers deserve, at a minimum, a work atmosphere that doesn’t make them feel fearful and anxious all day. Each of us doing a little to help them feel valued and supported will have far more impact than a small handful of us trying to do everything and coming up short. Teacher Appreciation Week is great. But what teachers need is our support, this week and every week.

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