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“I don’t know how you teach! I couldn’t take it!” I had heard this statement so many times I decided to ask the very next person who said that to me a question.
“Take what?” My come-back sounded much more aggressive than I intended it to.
After looking initially shocked, she said “The kids, the parents, all that extra work, hell everything!”
I let out a long, exasperated sigh. I didn’t have time to explain for the umpteenth time why I choose to stay in a profession where I am constantly disrespected, unappreciated and blamed for so many issues in America. Instead, my mind drifted to what might finally help the tumultuous relationship America has had with teachers.
If this were a marriage, America and teachers were surely on an inevitable road to a divorce. What if, in some crazy dream-world, America wanted to work to mend this relationship by letting us know that we are respected, appreciated, needed and ultimately loved! My mind was drawn to the Five Love Languages, a concept created by Dr. Gary Chapman through his long-time work as a marriage counselor. Dr. Chapman solidified the idea in his book The 5 Love Languages. America needs to show care for teachers with all five love languages.
Words of Affirmation
America needs to get back to the positive and supportive language that was once used to describe the teaching profession and those who have dedicated their lives to it. Someone once said that “Teaching is the one profession that creates all other professions”. If America believes this to be true, then this profession needs to continually receive the highest words of affirmation!
Administrators, let your staff know you appreciate them by saying thank you for the simple things like showing up after another heart-wrenching school shooting. Parents, let your child’s teacher know you appreciate them via a kind note, through an appreciative email or a “shout-out” on social media. Journalists, write more on every platform about the bravery, dedication and perseverance of teachers instead of continuing to allow Internet Keyboard Warriors and negative media outlets to tear us down. Run articles on teachers who go above and beyond on the daily. Highlight (and fund) podcasts, sitcoms, or even movies that showcase the blood, sweat and tears that goes into an often thankless career in education. Change the negative narrative about educators and instead, uplift teachers and the impactful work we do.
Acts of Service
Teaching is an act of service itself, so how can America demonstrate this second love language? Acts of Service are simply defined as doing something nice for someone, often without being asked. Here are some thoughts and ideas: administrators, if you walk into a classroom and see student’s working independently, offer to watch the class while a teacher goes to the restroom, or just steps outside for a student-free breath of fresh air. Parents, you can offer to volunteer to read a story, or speak to class about your career, or help be an extra set of eyes on campus, not for a special event, but just because.
If parents are not able to volunteer, then organize a parent group chat or social media group to help keep up with important information, updates or events, have students over for study groups, or send supplies in for special projects. A larger act of service would be to fully fund education with more than just one-time money so that schools can be sufficiently staffed. Further, look at your hiring practices and consider adopting policies that will ensure schools are fully staffed so that teachers can have the strength to actually serve our students without burning out! These acts of service would show teachers that their Herculean efforts to educate our children are valued.The Five Love Languages for Teachers Click To Tweet
Since education has never been truly fully funded, at least not in any sustainable, and equitable, manner, I will focus on the idea behind this love language. It is not the gift itself, but the thought behind the gift that counts. Higher teacher pay communicates an appreciation of the degrees, experience, and expertise teachers bring to the profession. Better benefits communicate a care for the health and well-being of teachers and their families. Affordable housing for teachers communicates an understanding that owning a home is part of the American Dream, a dream teachers would like to achieve. Lower class sizes communicate an understanding that the more attention a child can receive, the better chance they will receive the education they deserve. Add a paid mental health day for every teacher, with gift cards included, so that we can enjoy a truly “free” day off!
Further, America, you don’t have to wait until Teacher Appreciation Week to show teachers they are truly appreciated. While that is a week that communicates appreciation, having teacher discounts available every day communicates a year round appreciation of teachers. These ideas are just a few examples of thoughtful and impactful gifts.
This love language is often communicated as “undivided attention”. Again, we must be creative in how we interpret this love language. Teachers must be able to have quality time with students in order to build relationships. That can only happen if quality time is built into school schedules. Student conferences, parent-teacher conferences, and collaboration time with colleagues are all important examples of time that need to be treated as important as instructional minutes. These instances of quality time need to be prioritized.
Another way to demonstrate this love language is to allow teachers to have quality time with themselves. America, it is high time to provide, and pay for, therapy for teachers. “You can't have student mental well-being without investing in the adults around them,” argues clinical psychologist Megan McCormick in her article “Teachers Need Therapy: Their School Should Pay for It.” And think about making virtual options readily available so that it is convenient for teachers to fit into the schedule of their busy lives. With “quality time” thatfocuses on relationships with students and parents, we can building more collaborative schools, strengthen our communities and improve teachers’ mental health.
This one was the hardest for me to re-imagine, but I came up with some ideas based on the actual definition of touch: to come into or come in contact with. Contrary to popular beliefs, many teachers want administrators and district officials to actually come into the classrooms to see what is really going on. Better yet, let the same administrators or district officials actually teach classes for a full day. Some have become so far removed from the classrooms that many of us believe they have forgotten what it is like. Reach out and touch a classroom from time to time to remind yourself how hard it is to teach!
America, it’s time to mend this relationship
1 Corinthians 13 says the following: “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” Teachers have faith that things will change for the better. Teachers have hope for the future. But teachers need to know beyond the shadow of a doubt that they are loved for this relationship to work. America, relationships are hard. They take attention, effort, and willingness to work on staying together! Love us the way we deserve to be loved! America, we don’t want to lose you. You have already lost so many of us. If you don’t want to lose all of us, you need to learn how to speak a language we are missing in this relationship: the language of love!
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