For Teacher Appreciation Week I don’t want candy and dollar-off coupons. I don’t want apple-shaped lapel pins and cutesy symbolism about superheroes. I don’t want automated corporate emails that use my profession as a marketing scheme to sell me quick fixes in glossy covers.
I want a career that feels solid.
I want a daily schedule that feels sustainable — that allows me to plan and teach and reflect and learn.
I want the opportunity to offer meaningful, ongoing, prompt feedback to my students, and the ability to form meaningful mentorship connections with them. I want them considered and referred to as whole people, not as a series of digits in a never-ending graph “lookbook” compiled by showy data management companies who don’t even know their names. I want to know their parents, to attend their recitals, to know and help them reach their dreams.
When we parent three children, achieving all this is immeasurably challenging.
When we teach 50 students per day, doing this well is possible.
When we’re tasked with teaching 120 students every day, and are interrupted by drills of Scantron bubbling and checkbox checking, it is impossible.
I want class sizes that are reasonable, and I want a fitting fleet of competent, well-trained, well-cared-for professional colleagues to raise our kids into their infinite potential with the best possible care and tools.
I want a physical classroom and building that don’t flood, or mold, or rust.
I want a beautiful, clean space to work where architects and planners have invested their science and artistry into the daily learning experiences of students. I want shady trees and patches of grass to lay a blanket on in the spring and fall, and outdoor classrooms where we can study and observe and discuss ideas in peace and with leisure. I want natural light in every classroom, I want collaborative spaces, and large work tables, and well-resourced libraries and laboratories, and art performance spaces with lighting and ladders and sound equipment, and play spaces for games and team-building and fun too. I want the gardeners and groundskeepers and building maintenance staff to be treated, and trained, and paid as mentors, and experts — as educators.
I want cafeteria halls with locally-sourced food, and accompanying classes where students can learn to grow, and prepare, and serve their peers healthy food with pride in themselves and in their culture, and community. I want us to teach and practice sound ecological practices. I want us to prepare a new generation to care for a convalescent planet that is too hurt to continue being neglected and abused. We know better, and we owe it to our students to prepare them to do better by teaching them what we’ve learned from our mistakes. I want farm and cafeteria staff to be treated, and trained, and paid as mentors, and experts — as educators.
I want healthcare benefits that allow me to get preventive care, to access cures, to see a therapist in order to avoid getting to breakdown or crisis or flight.
I want my child to be able to receive the care she needs if she gets physically injured while playing a sport, loses a baby tooth in 1st grade, or is going through a hard time sorting out the complicated social or emotional threads of her peer and personal development.
I want my students to have access to quality, comprehensive healthcare so they can be free of worry and pain when they come to class to learn. I want nurses, and counselors, and social workers, and dentists, and sex educators to be a stable, accessible part of our everyday life in schools. I want them to be treated, and trained, and paid as mentors, and experts — as educators.
I want a society that prioritizes education – that means governing/lawmaking/policy bodies that would never dare to make any decisions about schools without broad and deep input from its teachers; that means a general public who is vigilant about the mechanisms of democratic accountability and committed to working in solidarity with all of us; that means parents who invest not just their bake sale dollars, but their time and collaborative work through ongoing, open communication.
I want to retire a grateful member of my community – proud to have helped raise, guide, challenge and having loved generations of my neighbors: My city’s judges, farmers, welders, doctors, and plumbers; My state’s scientists, writers, senators, thinkers; My planet’s engineers, artists, leaders, peacemakers, filmmakers, journalists.
I want to feel grateful for the care I’m receiving for my service. I want to feel certain that no matter my health in my old age, my dignity will be recognized and guarded, my life and experience will be treasured, and my roots in the community I invested in will keep me from toppling over if a storm hits.
What I want isn’t radical any more than it’s life affirming and past due.
And I’m not the only one who wants these things. Ask teachers. Ask parents. Ask students.
I don’t have any use for apple-shaped lapel pins, or dollar-off coupons, or scam emails with catchy subject lines. I want my work to matter. I want my students and colleagues to have a chance to flourish. I want to grow, and be treated with care and respect. I want to be thanked by name. I want to be looked in the eye. I want to be taken into account and asked my opinion. And
I want that to matter.
I want teaching to matter.
I want teachers to matter.
I want students to matter.
I want public schools to matter.
And I want evidence to prove that we do.
Anca Stefan teaches high school English at the School for Creative Studies in Durham