Teachers deserve more than a doughnut and coffee for Teacher Appreciation Week. They deserve to be seen, supported, and celebrated in ways that restore their joy. We have 63 RPIA Teachers this year, and they show me just how deep their conviction for this work goes in every cohort session and coaching call. Even as a teacher myself, I remain awe struck by the ways they push themselves and hold on to a critical hope that guides their daily work with students. I have seen community circles facilitated by students, teachers empowering students to plan mini lessons for the class, and student to student accountability partners in our classrooms. I have seen educators challenge each other in healthy ways as they work together to re-imagine what is possible in the classroom. Simply put, I have seen great teachers at work.
As of today, 95% of RPIA Teachers plan to return to their classroom next year. That retention rate is astounding, especially in the current education climate. What is it that inspires them to stay? As one Phoenixville teacher shared, “RPIA changed the way I see kids and gives me hope. This group (of fellow teachers) reminds me that I matter and that I can keep growing to make an even bigger difference with my students.”
I care about our teachers, and I think a lot about how to keep these great teachers in the classroom. One way to keep our teachers in the classroom is to genuinely appreciate them. Below are a few ways to do that in a way that restores joy in our teachers this Teacher Appreciation Week.
Joke With Them
Joke with a teacher about the show Abbott Elementary. Every Philly teacher I know is watching this show, and every Philly teacher I know could use a good belly laugh in the middle of their work day. Ask them about a favorite episode, make fun of the goofy principal character in the show, or joke about a wild school scenario that is all-too-close to normal life for a teacher in our city. Taking the time to laugh with them is a way to show them that you see them.
Give the Gift…of Markers
Gift a teacher new whiteboard markers! As much as I love a good ice cream sandwich or tie-dyed t-shirt (both items I’ve been handed during teacher appreciation weeks), a fresh whiteboard marker is worth its weight in gold at this time of the year. You may be amazed at the look of pure joy a teacher gives you when you hand them this, but if you’ve ever been a teacher, you get it.
Ask About Their Day
Ask a teacher, “What was the best part of your day?”
This simple question holds incredible power. It encourages teachers to pause, reflect back on their day, and think about the students that made them smile or the lesson they felt good about. Teachers are so often bogged down by the heaviness of our work, especially over the past few years. Our profession became a shell of what it was meant to be, and now we are doing all we can to reimagine and rebuild inclusive classrooms that empower students. A few moments to dwell on the positive change we see makes a difference.
Advocate for Change
One week of appreciation rings hollow without partnership all year long. Walk alongside us as we fight for culturally responsive curriculum, special education reform, and equitable school budgets. Not only do we teach students, but we also do all we can to create system-level change. You can ask any teacher in your life and we will point you in a direction to advocate at a local, state, or federal level for education reform.
Reconnect with one of your past teachers and tell them how they impacted you: Teachers live for these moments. The moments we receive an email, a card, or a message from a past student sharing the impact we have had on their lives. If even a few sentences, you may never know how your words of appreciation remind a teacher that their work matters. You may never know how your past teacher is struggling to stay in the classroom, and how your words might be the encouragement that keeps them going on a tough day at work.
To our 21-22 RPIA Cohort Teachers – you are seen, supported, and celebrated. Thank you for showing your communities – and me – all that is possible when we restore student voice, ownership, and empowerment in our classrooms.