Middle school teacher Mary Nanniga offers some pointed suggestions about how to show teachers they are appreciated.
This week we celebrate teachers and show them how much we appreciate them. Teachers will receive little gifts this week from principals and some students. It’s lovely to receive a $5 Starbucks card and even lovelier to receive a free ten-minute massage, compliments of my very kind building administrators.
What isn’t so lovely is the type of “appreciation” that’s shown to teachers the rest of the year. Largely driven by forces that want to change the landscape of public education, teachers have been scapegoated, marginalized, and silenced. Here is how we “appreciate” our teachers these days:
We lay them off in droves. Not only is this disastrous for the children whose after school programs are cut, whose class sizes increase , whose special ed services begin to suffer, whose bus service ends, this has the real as well as the covert effect of weakening the teachers’ union, through attrition.
We hold them responsible for societal conditions beyond their control and when they can’t fix things, we blame them. Teachers in high poverty schools deal with gang influences, the effects of incarcerated parents, mixed immigration status families, homelessness, and high mobility and absenteeism—all the hallmarks of poverty. Unable to raise the test scores of these damaged children, especially in a climate of such austerity, we are soon to be labeled “ineffective,” and fired.
We pass poorly thought-out laws to regulate them. Tying student test scores to teacher evaluations is going to have a predictable effect: The effective teachers will be in the affluent schools, and the ineffective teachers will be in the poor schools. This will ensure that poor and minority children, not their more affluent white peers, will suffer needlessly from a revolving door of teachers, probably TFA recruits, who will stay a couple of years, then move on. We know this is true, as we have yet to find any “failing” affluent schools. The war on teachers is above all a war on poor and minority children.
We eliminate due process. Public schoolteachers never had actual “tenure,” something that is reserved for the universities. Instead, we had due process—we couldn’t be fired without good reason (“due process” doesn’t rile up the citizenry the way “tenure” does, though). SB 10-191 is ending due process for teachers. We will no longer be able to stand up and advocate for children, speak out when we see abuses, or speak up for change. We will no longer be able to say no to extra committees and after school obligations (even if we already have many). Our classes can be “stacked” with behavior problems and/or the slowest children; those teachers who get that treatment will be very easy to get rid of. By eliminating due process for teachers, we eliminate educational parity for lots of children from poverty.
We use sophistry to turn the public against them. The reform movement uses half-truths to sell America the notion that their schools are failing. They talk about how poorly we do compared to other countries, although we compare ALL our kids to the others’ best students. They label schools as “failing,” a cruel and deliberately placed moniker with real pejorative value. They know very well that schools only reflect the communities they serve; that “failing” schools really reflect failing communities. They advance the notion that charter schools outperform traditional schools, but that’s only true when charters use models that can’t be replicated—more involved families, rules families must abide by, and KIPP even returns kids to their home school if they don’t toe the line (other charters claim not to, but if that’s so, why is one of those kids in my seventh period class?)
So, on this Teacher Appreciation Week, I will enjoy a Starbucks drink and I will enjoy a ten minute massage. What I would really like, though, is the gift of respect for my profession. I would like to see our public school teachers—the ONLY people doing ANYTHING to help with the poor and disadvantaged—to stop being scapegoated and blamed, and to stop being targeted by unfair laws and unfair rhetoric.
That’s how America can show its teachers that they truly are appreciated.
Mary Nanniga is a literacy teacher at Shaw Heights Middle School in the Adams 50 school district.