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Teachers Need Action Along With Appreciation

This week has been designated as Teacher Appreciation Week, and Tuesday, May 7th, as National Teacher Day. There will be proclamations, contests, lots of goodies in teacher workrooms, and a multitude of conversations about favorite teachers and their impact on student lives. But will there be change in our behavior toward teachers?

This has been the most challenging year for teachers that I can remember. Their measure of teaching effectiveness has been relegated to a score on a single test on a single day. The high-stakes tests developed for a purpose unrelated to teacher evaluation have sucked the joy out of teaching and learning. Budget cuts have created larger class sizes, empty supply closets, personal economic stress, and more hardship on teachers' students and their families. Most tragically, teachers have lived through the worst shooting in K-12 school history with the senseless killing of six of their colleagues and 20 first graders at the Sandy Hook Elementary School.

And still teachers go to school every day, embrace their students, and teach them even as they navigate the obstacles created by policymakers who do not understand that schools are not corporations, students are not widgets, and teachers are not robots. Every day teachers find ways to engage children in activities that foster learning, teachers spend their own money to buy necessary supplies, and yes, teachers sacrifice their lives to assure children survive school violence. Appreciation is the least we can give, and it is not nearly enough.

Teachers need policymakers to champion change in the bureaucratic and unrealistic policy requirements they have created. They can start by listening to the timely recommendation of NEA and AFT, and place a moratorium on all high-stakes decisions on testing related to the new Common Core State Standards. Launch-and-learn strategies will never be successful if high stakes strangle mid-course corrections and reasonable adjustments. Teachers and the profession of teaching are drowning in the convoluted set of policies that have evolved since No Child Left Behind. Gridlock in Washington, DC, and the lack of alignment in federal, state, and local policies are undermining teachers at every turn. If you really want to prove you appreciate teachers, throw them a lifeline.

Teachers need respect, autonomy, and responsibility for their profession. These three factors may be the best gifts you can give to teachers. We need to build a profession that has high standards for becoming an accomplished teacher and one that attracts career-minded individuals who demand those three elements. Those elements are commonplace for lawyers, doctors, engineers, and nurses. Why are they not found in the teaching profession?

As we thank teachers for giving their all to our children, let us stand with them to convince policymakers that change in current policies must happen if we are to ensure our children opportunities to be successful in the global community where they will work and live. Let's make this week Teacher Appreciation and Action Week.

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