Teacher Appreciation Week: It's About the Little Things

Kelsey Sheehy

Teachers devote their lives to educating the nation's youth. They serve as mentors, coaches, counselors and yes, even baby sitters, often with limited resources and little recognition.

These challenges can take their toll. Year after year, high school teachers report high stress levels and low job satisfaction rates, according to annual surveys by the MetLife Foundation.

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National Teacher Appreciation Week -- May 6-10 -- gives parents and administrators the nudge they need to show teachers their due.

Flowers, treats and Facebook shoutouts this week can help show educators you have their back, but teachers say simple gestures year-round make a real impact.

"The biggest thing a person can do is say 'Thank you,' 'You are valuable' and a friendly 'Keep up the good work,'" says Vannessa Wade, who teaches English as a Second Language to high school students in Houston part-time through the Association for the Advancement of Mexican Americans.

"We often hear what did not work or what should be improved, but a 'Thank you' and 'I admire you' goes a long way," says Wade, who also works with adult students.

Trust and empowerment - particularly from school leaders - also make teachers feel supported and appreciated, says Dale Conner, a language arts teacher at William Mason High School in Ohio.

"I think one of the keys to teacher support is when the administration acknowledges that the teacher is often the one in the trenches and they may know what is best for their students," Conner says.

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Tapping that knowledge and including teachers in decisions that affect students is key to bolstering teacher satisfaction, says James Jones, a robotics instructor at Ocoee High School in Florida.

"The ideal working environment is one in which teachers are allowed to freely share their thoughts and ideas. Not in just what we teach, but in how student concerns are handled; how funding is distributed; how we assess students; how we ourselves are assessed and more," Jones says. "We do get more input than we used to, but there are so many more things that we could do and say that would greatly help the process."

Parents and administrators can also boost teachers by acting as partners, not adversaries, says Matthew Collier, a robotics coach and former teacher at Resurrection Christian High School in Colorado.

"You would be surprised at the number of situations where a child simply did not get their way or like the decision of the teacher," Collier says, noting that the parental tendency to side with their teen can make teachers' lives challenging. "It would be a welcome relief if teachers felt respected and ... considered 'innocent until proven guilty' by administration and parents, rather than the other way around."

Ultimately, the teaching profession is devoted to helping students achieve. Appreciating teachers means showing them you understand their goals and recognizing their efforts, says Barbara Shuba, a science teacher at William Mason High School.

"The things that feed a teacher's soul are acknowledgement, recognition and support for what we do in the classroom and out of it for our students every day," Shuba says.

"It is recognizing the extra time that is taken to write that letter of recommendation, the extra time spent after school to make up work that a student missed or to provide that extra help that they need. It is recognizing that our job does not end when the last bell of the day rings."

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