George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Let Us Now Praise Teachers, for Teacher Appreciation Week

Milton Chen

Senior Fellow
Related Tags: Teacher Leadership
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This column inaugurates my biweekly blog on I'm excited to contribute to our site on a regular basis and will be writing about the interesting people and places I encounter. I'll also be discussing some themes and stories from my upcoming book, Education Nation: Six Leading Edges of Innovation in our Schools (Jossey-Bass, July), based upon our recent work at Edutopia, linking to many of our films, articles, and resources.

And what better time to start than during Teacher Appreciation Week! Teachers are underappreciated, underpaid, and under a lot of undeserved pressure. Yet they hold the future of our communities and our nation in their hands. Beyond curriculum, technology, or community partnerships, teachers are the single most important factor in a student's learning. They are the spark that ignites a student's learning, through communicating their passion for their subjects and touching not just students' minds, but their hearts, as well.

Back in 1992, George Lucas stood on the world's stage at the Oscars and received the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for lifetime achievement. It sits in a glass case near our offices. When I point out the award to visiting educators, they still recall that moment, more than 18 years ago, when George thanked his teachers (which, they often note, today's Oscar winners rarely do). Lucas said, "All of us who make motion pictures are teachers, teachers with very loud voices. But we will never match the power of the teacher who is able to whisper in a student's ear."

Everyone has a story about that one favorite teacher who took an interest in them, told them they were smart, or encouraged them to pursue a subject or a sport. I've always been impressed by how even a single remark from one teacher can influence a student's path. Delaine Eastin, one of most distinguished former California state superintendents, used to tell the story of being a shy girl until a drama teacher told her she ought to try out for a play. Eastin learned that she loved performing onstage. She became a riveting speaker, a popular state legislator, and the highest elected education official in the nation-all sparked by one comment from a compassionate teacher.

I had a similar experience. Having warmed both the A and B team benches during an inglorious freshman basketball season, I was casting about for a student activity during the winter of my sophomore year at John Hersey High School, near Chicago. My English teacher, Richard Panagos, was the speech coach and encouraged me to try out. I ended up winning two state championships in after-dinner and extemporaneous speaking and I still enjoy what most people cite as their greatest fear, even beyond snakes: public speaking.

Of course, every week should be Teacher Appreciation Week. So let's make sure that, starting this week, we do more to thank the teachers we had and the teachers our daughters and sons have. Let's resolve to compliment teachers more, through a pat on the back, a handshake, or a card, and express our appreciation for the important national service they're providing. It's a gift that will keep on giving as they pass on that warmth to their students. And it won't require a federal appropriation or a board of education vote.

In a future column, I'll say more about the power of praise and how a kind word from teachers and parents can go a long way to fuel students' self-confidence and persistence. Gratitude and praise should be among our nation's abundant renewable resources for fueling the success of our teachers and students.

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Milton Chen

Senior Fellow
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Mrs. Mimi's picture

If I could, I would give you a huge hug right now! Thank you for writing a teacher myself, I can tell you firsthand how much a small thank you or compliment goes. Schools can be extremely volatile places and teachers work extra hard to shield their students from all the political drama going on around them. No need for flowers or parades (although they are welcome) because a bit of sincere appreciation (and maybe a raise) is all we need.


Laura Hartner's picture

As an administrator in a small,K-8 district, I feel our greatest asset is our teachers. This was validated in a recent parent survey on school quality. I truly agree that thanks and words of appreciation go a long way, and cost nothing financially. In a state where our governor is challenging the state teachers' union and cutting state funding to education, we must rely on the strengths of our staff to provide a quality education to our students. I'd just like to say "thank you" to my staff and all of our country's teachers for all that you do to make our school a special place to inspire and encourage our nation's children!

Joe Van Deuren's picture

I appreciate this article so much. I believe that teachers are our greatest resource that we have in the world. We intrust our most valuable possessions, our own children, to them for many hours everyday for many years. They not only deserve our verbal support, but they also deserve our support in the classroom and at home.

It is the reason that I started the Grants4Teachers fund in Anne Arundel County, MD for all the teachers to see that I was willing to put my money behind what we all say at the end of each school year, thank you for a job well done.

Bonnie Bracey Sutton's picture
Bonnie Bracey Sutton
Teacher Agent of Change, Power of US Foundation

In the national discourse on education there have been lots of terrible things said about teachers. Often they are said by people who haven;t got a clue as to what really goes on in classrooms. More than that people are demeaning of teachers without understanding the power of political winds.

Teachers don't often get to talk back. First this week was the eloquent written piece by Larry Cuban about
urban schools and teachers and how trust should be a part of the relationship of teacher to superintendent and now here is your beautiful piece that applauds the work that teachers do.I liked the part about trash talking about teachers as a negative thing.

With all of the angst in teaching these days we have to look to the future . Teachers touch the future.
It probably is a great idea to think about how they are affected by the things that go on , on a daily basis in the news. We have fewer and fewer people attracted to teaching. The dialogue all seems to place the blame of society's woes on teachers as the cause.

I had the best fun of my life defending teachers in an international forum of the Global Alliance on Development, GAID. of the United Nations. I was in Monterrey , Mexico in a forum . Everyone was
blaming teachers. Well I am not in a classroom and who was going to stop me from having my say?

So I asked, who makes the rules for how teachers work?

Who allocates the funding and decides policy?

Who creates the funding stream for professional development and support for teachers?

Who decides what curriculum they use? This was an international forum and in the auditorium there weren't that many people. I had forgotten that it was being webcast.

In the next panel, the same complaints came up about teachers. I asked in that panel, about teacher education , and how we create a technofluency within the schools. THere was dead silence , except for the
Minister of Education in Cuba. He apparently has been thinking about transforming teacher education whether he was working with one teacher in a remote area or many. I did get their attention.

Long story short, I was asked to write a piece for an upcoming publication about the blame game in education. In education the teacher is often the target, so how refreshing it was to see this essay.

On Facebook, as a teacher I was initially warned by people not to be in touch with students I had taught.
Invades their privacy , or something like that it was said. I did not seek out the students I taught. They
asked me to be their friend. From them I got stories and ideas about how I was effective and lots of thanks, and letters of appreciation.

Feedback , appreciation and understanding of teaching is important.

Thank you.

Bonnie Bracey Sutton
One student's mother and I were at odds about her going to an aquarium. I paid for it because I did not want the child to miss the experience. All these years later she wrote to tell me what a magical experience going to the National Aquarium in Baltimore was for her, and how it changed her life. She also shared
her experience of taking her children to that same aquarium. I never knew that that simple act of deciding that she WOULD go to the aquarium would make a difference. That is one of several stories that
I have learned using the participatory culture. Thanks over the years from students who are now adults , are a powerful thing. Recognition of the power of teachers and a pat on the back now with your inspiring writing may keep teachers from changing occupations, and create interest for aspiring teachers.

Gail Perniciaro's picture

We are the human capital in our schools and should be valued as such. I loved the questions about who makes the rules--RIGHT ON BONNIE!!! It's time to stop blaming. I always believed that a problem should not be brought to the table unless you also have a viable solution to propose. Most solutions seem to be punitive and destructive to teacher morale. The work of the entire body of human psychology is being ignored. I'd like to se a greater emphasis on professional development and carreer counseling/ placement services as needed. I don't think I've ever met a teacher who didn't want to do better, be more effective, or learn a new strategy that would help their students. But, I've met scores of teachers who feel underappreciated, underpaid, and under a lot of undeserved pressure! I'm going to go to school tomorrow and make sure I let all of my colleagues know how much I appreciate them!!!

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