Teachers arguably have the most important job in the world. They work in classrooms with students up to 7 hours per day, 5 days per week, and spend countless hours outside of that preparing lessons and grading students’ work. Teachers deserve to be sung praises day in and day out, but unfortunately, expressions of true teacher appreciation are few and far between.
Dr. Roberts, a Political Economy and IB History teacher at Lincoln High School plainly notes how teacher appreciation “makes the overall classroom experience better for everyone.” He states, “[when students are] excited about doing a task, that’s the most appreciated I feel as a teacher because it means I’m being effective and teaching them things which they are eager to learn and actually interested in.” According to him, the way students show they appreciate their teachers is simply by staying engaged and being passionate about what they are learning in class. He feels as though his classrooms have achieved a dynamic in which his students participate, and are therefore enjoying themselves.
However, a student in one of Dr. Roberts’ classes expresses a common sentiment among students when she notes how she participates “not because I love my teachers, but because I value my grades [and] if you participate you’ll get a better grade.” She further expands on this idea by observing how students “work” and “manipulate” their teachers by feigning interest through participation in order to gain favor with teachers and earn desired grades. Other students agreed with the first, noting how participating isn’t a form of appreciating, it is “just what you do in school,” and that “you’ve just got to do what’s best for you and your grade.” While teachers may feel appreciated when their students participate in class, they do not recognize that for the most part, the students are merely doing what they feel will benefit them through the form of high marks. While a general consensus among students is that they do appreciate their teachers, most find saying “thank you” and signing the obligatory card during teacher appreciation week an adequate way of expressing a year’s worth of appreciation.
The blame for this lack of appreciation falls not on students, but on society as a whole. Both Dr. Roberts and his students agreed that “there is a systematic undervaluation of teachers and their role” as school is typically seen as a “stepping stone” to the future. In actuality, without education, there would be no future for students to move on to. Teachers begin working with children when they are extremely young and impressionable and play an instrumental role in determining who they will ultimately become. They shape minds and futures year after year and yet are constantly and consistently undervalued. Teachers help individuals to creatively solve problems, overcome obstacles, and work effectively with others. Dr. Roberts points out how “what we do in the classroom is as real world as what happens outside of the classroom.” But society has communicated to students that the only thing that matters coming out of high school is their GPA and test scores. Beginning in kindergarten, we are asked what we want to be when we grow up, and for the next 12 years, that is what we fixate on. Students have been taught to focus on their eventual profession, and as a result, view school and teachers as little more than a vehicle for them to get there.
So what should change? Dr. Roberts suggests a systematic investment in education, but I believe the solution is much simpler. We each must carefully examine our education with a broad perspective, and recognize that without our teachers, there would be no way for us to obtain the skills necessary for success. We can strive to develop an authentic relationship with our teachers rather than merely attempting to charm them for a good grade. As a whole, we can all work to overcome the indifferent or even negative feelings we may have towards teachers, and come to understand the huge part they play in creating a functioning society. Doing so will likely lead to a true desire to express appreciation and gratitude towards teachers each and every day.
Dana Smiley is a junior at Lincoln High School and a Student Voice Blogger at Oregon Student Voice, a student-led organization that empowers all students to be authentic partners in making decisions that affect their K-12 education.