The Importance of Feeling Valued...
I've spent the last couple of months thinking about my career as an educator. I often get asked, "What's Next?". It's a legitimate question that I don't have an answer to yet. I flew home last Saturday and realized it had been nearly 4 months since I have been home. I have missed family, friends and my cats, but everyone I have seen this week just talks about how happy I look. I've spent 4 months away from all that I love, yet I look happier- how is that possible? When I think about what made the last few years of teaching challenging is that I did not feel valued as a professional educator, and I am not alone. There are a lot of teachers who have left the profession and a lot who will in the next few years. Since we don't have enough teachers in the pipeline, districts need to focus on retaining the teachers they have. The number 1 way we can retain teachers to to value them as the professionals they are.
When COVID hit and schools had to immediately pivot to online instruction, teachers were heroes. That quickly changed in the fall of 2020 as districts were deciding on whether to open. Teachers became the villains when they fought for a safe place to work. The pressure from the public was to open without safeguards so they could have someone to watch their children during the day. Teachers became glorified babysitters whose health and safety did not matter. Then came hybrid learning, a compromise to get kids in school but with fewer contacts. The idea was good enough, but it required 2-3 times the work to implement.
Then came learning loss and the job of finding solutions fell to the teachers. Now anyone seems to be better qualified to decide the best way to teach children, something I was trained to do and have 30 years of experience doing. Do you assume you know better than a doctor or engineer who tells you how something is best done? Why do members of government and the public think they can do our jobs better-without training or experience? In my experience, administrators have less than 10 years experience in a classroom and are often years removed from the classroom. Yet they go to a conference, see the latest "Bright and Shiny (BS)" educational initiative and push teachers to change the way they teach, without thinking of asking the teachers for their professional opinions. Most of the BS initiatives are not even new- they are renamed and wrapped in fancier paper, but they are the same initiative that failed years ago. And why did it fail? Because teachers were not the major driver of the change.
Don't get me wrong, I have learned something from every intitiative that has been introduced to me, because that's what good teachers do. Teachers take new ideas and add them to our teacher "Toolkit". There is not a single initiative that will fix every student, because students all have different needs, so teachers acquire numerous tools they can use. Teachers don't have the time to do that if the district or public decides they have "the answer". Showing teachers they are valued requires uplifting the accomplishments of our teachers, not just in a celebration, but in allowing teachers to drive the change.
All of this comes back to the importance of being valued. There are a shortage of workers for positions in all areas of our society, including teachers and support staff in schools. To turn the tide, employers show employees respect and value their what they bring to the job. I think about the jobs my oldest son has left. Both times it was the lack of respect and not feeling valued. He enjoys his new job because they are showing him respect and value what he brings to the job.
This journey I am on has been incredible, in large part because I am treated as the educational expert in the office. That's actually the whole point of the Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellowship- to bring educational experts into the Federal space. I have something to offer to my Congressional office and they constantly remind me of that. It is so refreshing and uplifting. What I do know is that whatever step I take next, it has to be one where I am valued for my training and vast experience. This fellowship has shown me what I have been missing and what a difference it can make to feel valued.
I am sharing this picture with my forever friend, Betty Reyerson. I met Betty a few years back at my school where as a retired teacher, she often subbed and was the proctor for the Advanced Placement (AP) exams. I started requesting her whenever I was going to be gone. The students loved her because she showed them respect, and so they would get the work done. She would leave me lovely notes about the students and my teaching. She always makes me feel valued she will always be my "Forever Friend".
On this Thanksgiving day, vow to show those around you how much you value them. It can make all the difference in the world.