It is around this time every year that I can expect to receive a host of goodies and knick-knacks from people. My school brings lunch or breakfast. Students sometimes give me nice cards. One year, some wealthy benefactor actually donated tickets to an NBA game. That is certainly a nice gesture, and I did enjoy the game. But at the end of the day, token gestures from members of the community do not make me feel appreciated as a whole. There is only one thing that can do that, and it’s better pay.
Let’s talk about the concept of teacher appreciation holidays. They are, by definition celebrations for people who work in fields that are under-compensated relative to the value they bring. Think about the appreciation days/weeks you have heard of. More than likely they are in professions that are overworked and underpaid: Teacher Appreciation Week, National Social Workers Day, National Custodian, and Grounds Appreciation Day.
When do we celebrate Hedge Manager Appreciation Week? When is NFL Wide Receiver Appreciation day? You don’t know, and they probably don’t either because their reward for a job well done is being well paid. This isn’t to say that there aren’t appreciation days or weeks for high-paying jobs. However, we don’t make a big deal about them the way we do others because we know that some people are poorly compensated for their critical work, and “________ appreciation day” is our way of saying thanks for bringing more value than society is willing to pay you for.
This is especially true when it comes to teaching. Teachers are underpaid in comparison to other professionals. Imagine having a master’s degree in your field and not even being able to afford to live in the city in which you work? Many teachers don’t have to imagine. Lots of politicians will pay lip service to teachers around this time, but when it is time to pass that budget during the next legislative session, that lip service does not usually translate to action. It’s instances like this that make some teachers prefer that there was no “appreciation week” at all. Why have a week for people to pretend they care about teachers when they don’t?
This isn’t to say that we aren’t actually appreciative of the appreciation. Getting a note from students or parents does actually mean a lot, and administrators digging into their already stretched budget to cater lunch is no insignificant gesture.
What we don’t want is for appreciation to take the place of compensation. Unfortunately, holidays for underpaid professions sometimes devolve into self-congratulatory celebrations for decision makers who have the agency to show teachers they “appreciate them” all year long. A budget is nothing more than a descending list of priorities. You don’t need an appreciation week to tell teachers how much they are valued. Their paychecks already do.