Who was your favorite teacher? Everyone has one. This is Teacher Appreciation Week, and yesterday was National Teacher Day.
All around the country, children and parents are honoring their teachers, some of whom will end up being favorites for life.
Teaching is not an occupation; it is a vocation. Teachers spend their careers preparing children for life. They teach because they love helping children grow.
Henry Brooks Adams once said, “A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.” This is very true.
Teachers instruct us not only in academics, but also in character. They help us to be successful in pursuit of an occupation, but they also teach us lessons about attributes like tolerance, patience, listening, and kindness. Great teachers are not only skilled at motivating learning, but are also influential role models of decency and dedication.
In their classrooms, children never give up because teachers never give up on children.
Teachers do touch the future.
Teachers don’t spend time at the office and go home. No, they come in early to set up lessons, check over plans, and reply to emails or phone calls. They teach all day, and sometimes they may even get to eat lunch—if they’re lucky.
They work with children after school and prepare plans or set up lessons for the next day. When they finally do get home, they may spend a few hours with family before returning to grading papers, checking homework, and yes, more preparation.
It’s a long and sometimes stressful day.
Today, teaching is more difficult than ever before. Teachers make hundreds of instant decisions per minute. Children often have many emotional needs in addition to learning difficulties, but teachers are always there for them.
Building relationships is essential for teachers. There’s a quote attributed to Teddy Roosevelt: “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” This maxim is very accurate, particularly for the teachers we remember most.
The best teachers and principals begin building relationships on the first day of school. An educator who has a caring relationship with a student doesn’t have to raise his voice to reprimand; the student realizes that he has broken a trust and feels terrible enough at just letting the teacher down. He will do whatever it takes to repair that relationship.
Today’s teacher is less a “sage on the stage” and more of a “guide on the side.” Walk into an elementary school science/STEM lesson, and you will see students excitedly engaged in creating, discovering, sharing, and discussing, with the teacher facilitating the learning expertly.
Elementary teachers are masters at tying shoelaces and keeping a discussion going at the same time. Secondary teachers motivate the unmotivated and re-engage the disengaged every period. All teachers work hard to make lessons come alive, to help students make a connection with the content so the instruction “sticks,” and to help every child reach his or her full potential.
Teachers are always evaluating and assessing. They are invariably looking for ways to improve. That is a motivating aspect of teaching—every year provides a new opportunity to grow and develop even more expertise. Teachers are life-long learners.
Teachers have one of the hardest jobs in the world, but they also have one of the most significant jobs in the world. On all grade levels, they help children prepare for life academically, emotionally, socially, and in every other way. It is an enormous responsibility, and, yes, it is an incredible challenge, but it is what a teacher lives for in the classroom.
So when you see a teacher in the store, and your child just has to say hello (because they sometimes believe that teachers live at school and are surprised to see them anywhere else!), thank that teacher for all of her hard work.
When you see the teacher at the next IEP, CSE, or parent conference meeting, be kind knowing that she probably didn’t get a lot of sleep, since she was preparing late into the night so you would have all the information you need to have a great meeting.
When you see them over the summer, realize that many of them are working a second job to make ends meet, or planning for the next year, or participating in professional development, or taking courses for an advanced degree.
Finally, let’s appreciate them financially, too. A senior education major at Radford University has a hard decision. The average teacher salary in 2016 (Virginia Department of Education) in Loudoun County was $64,184 (this is the average for all teachers, first year to 30 plus years.). In Albemarle County, it was $55,281; Charlottesville was $56,310; Salem was $55,776. The highest average salary was in Alexandria at $74,644.
The average teacher salary in Radford was $49,649; Montgomery County was $50,605.
The average teacher salary in Virginia was $54,891 (30th in the US.).
The teacher’s pension is based on the final average salary and years served, so the Alexandria teacher, doing the same job, will not only have more money for her family yearly, but will have a much better retirement.
That graduate could also have almost 100 thousand dollars in loans to pay back, so salary matters.
Where should that amazing Radford University teacher-graduate apply? If she was your child, what would you suggest?
Our teachers do an incredible job. We trust them to prepare our children for their life-long journeys. The ability of the individual teacher in the classroom has the most significant impact on a child’s achievement.
That Radford University senior can decide to go anywhere to teach; let’s continue to work toward providing salaries that are competitive with “anywhere,” so those exceptional teachers will choose to work (and stay) in the NRV—with our children.
Who knows, one may even end up being your child’s favorite!
Finally, it’s good to remember the words of Jesse Stuart, the author of “The Thread that Runs so True,” which echo those of Henry Adams. Stuart wrote, “I am firm in my belief that a teacher lives on and on through his students. Good teaching is forever and the teacher is immortal.”
Thank you, teachers, for all you do for our children every day.
Steve Frey is a writer and CEO of Ascendant Educational Services based in Radford.