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Honoring Teachers Now More Than Ever

Teacher Appreciation Week begins today and ends on May 11. It's the one time of the year that is officially designated to remember teachers who for one reason or another have played an important role in our lives. It's easy to dismiss the occasion as just another sop thrown to those in the front of the classroom. But I don't think most people realize how much teachers welcome being recognized for their accomplishments.

Teachers may not admit it openly, but a note from a student or parent thanking them for what they have done makes their lives seem worthwhile. This has probably always been the case up to a point. However, the unrelenting criticism aimed at teachers has undermined their morale to the extent that many are questioning whether they will remain in the classroom. For example, the annual MetLife Survey of the American Teacher that was released in March found that more than half of teachers expressed some reservations about their jobs, the highest level of dissatisfaction since 1989. One in three said they will likely leave the profession in the next five years. This compares with one in four just three years ago.

Teachers are neither missionaries nor mercenaries. They choose to teach for many reasons. Admittedly, some don't deserve to be in the classroom. But then again some lawyers don't deserve to be practicing law. The teachers who are long remembered favorably by their former students are those who deeply cared about them and showed their concern by the way they responded to their needs. The price that teachers pay for doing so today is manifested by what is known as compassion fatigue. It's a form of burnout that is compounded by secondary traumatic stress ("Helping Nurses Cope With Compassion Fatigue," The Wall Street Journal, Jan. 3).

I seriously question how much longer public school teachers will be able to carry on as well as they do under the circumstances. What we're seeing is unprecedented in this country. The Obama administration has a new proposal referred to as the Respect Program in an attempt to boost morale by involving more teachers in education policy ("What Teachers Want," The Nation, Apr. 25). Yet I doubt it will make much of a difference as long as corporate reformers wield power. The irony is that the U.S. remains the strongest nation in the world, despite the shortcomings of some of its schools ("U.S. Is Stronger and Faster Than Anywhere Else," Newsweek, May 7).

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The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner's Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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