By Maxine Johnson Wood, Ed.D
The first week in May 2022 was formally acknowledged as National Teacher Appreciation Week by PTAs and PTOs, and other education groups. In President Biden’s proclamation, he stated, “I will never forget the educators who encouraged me as a child. Many of us remember our favorite teachers — the ones who instilled confidence in us, who encouraged us to dream boldly, and who helped us believe that we could achieve anything.” He further stated, “My administration is also committed to strengthening pathways into the teaching profession for future educators of color, ensuring a more diverse workforce.”
Traditionally the role of teacher has been well regarded, dating back to the days of Confucius. Certainly, during the past 50 years, many school attendees can recall a teacher or teachers that they appreciated. As the product of a segregated public-school system, my recollections of my teachers include fond memories of people who look like me. They were negroes, subsequently referred to as Black and/or African Americans. Miss Allen, my second-grade teacher, taught me reading and cursive writing. Mr. Lansey encouraged my creative writing and advised my mother to enroll me in a class for improving my posture. Likely, some of my peers and others had similar experiences and remember their teachers with respect. We were taught by teachers who looked like us and who were appreciated by our parents, and the community. I will not imply that all teachers and educators during those segregated times were excellent, nor were they all appreciated. However, I do believe that most were, and that negro teachers were respected and honored generally. The profession was recognized as a worthy career goal for many.
Commitment to helping students learn was most often in solid alignment with the expectations of parents and families. Praise and affirmations have been offered to teachers. In some instances, parents have become more inactive and less affirming of teachers’ roles as critical providers for and contributors to their children’s learning. Sometimes this has been based on personal experiences with teachers when they were students, and/or interactions with their children’s teachers.
What is the state of teaching during these COVID-19 Pandemic times? We know that teachers’ responsibilities were required to change nationally to deliver instruction, not in the classroom, but in the home via distance learning. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), elementary and secondary public school teachers are considerably less racially diverse as a group than their students. This was prominently acknowledged before the introduction of distance/virtual learning.
As the end of the 2021-2022 school year approaches, the need to focus on increasing the presence of black teachers and developing a more diverse teaching population remains an urgent matter. In the December 10, 2021 issue of the Pew Research Center, we read, “Elementary and secondary public school teachers in the United States are considerably less racially and ethnically diverse as a group than their students – and while the share of Black, Hispanic and Asian American teachers has increased in recent decades, it has not kept pace with the rapid growth in the racial and ethnic diversity of their students, according to data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).”
Other prominent matters include significant revisions to traditional pre-K through 12 instruction, increased need for non-academic student support services, and cultivating greater collaboration and connection between parents and teachers.
I encourage renewed awareness and emphasis on the role that parents can and should play in their children’s education as their first teachers in the home and beyond. Collaboration among parents and parenting adults with teachers should be promoted and demonstrated. This can have significant impact on appreciating the teacher, inclusive of black and all ethnicities, to positions of honor not limited to a particular week or time of year.
Some teachers are expressing anxieties, dissatisfaction, and desires to change careers. While intermittent expressions of gratitude and appreciation have been offered to teachers, in my opinion, few have been tangible and authentic. Direct attention should be given to support recruitment and retention of black teachers to work with students that look like them.
As a long-time educator, I recall my personal sensitivity to the profession. When I became a teacher, I never wanted to forget what it was like to be a student. When I became a principal, I never wanted to forget what it meant to be a teacher and a student. As a district administrator, I focused on remembering what it meant to be a principal, teacher, and a student. During these challenging times, I give special deference to parents. It is valuable, responsible, critical and urgent that, as parents, whether in local school districts, districts within Maryland, or throughout the country, they remember most importantly how valuable their learning experiences were, or could have been because of teachers. Within urban areas where populations are predominantly black or very diverse, consistent concerted efforts must be made to renew the honor due all teachers, respecting them consistently and cooperating and collaborating with them to ensure that they are valued, and the children cultivate respect for them also. This is particularly critical.
Teacher appreciation during these Pandemic times requires that they are recognized, respected, and rewarded for their honorable service. First Lady Jill Biden says it best: “Teaching is not what you do. It’s who you are.”
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