Finishing Strong, Teacher Appreciation, and All That Jazz

Melancholy.

I live in suburban Denver, and work in a school a few short miles from the Highlands Ranch STEM school. I had the honor of spending a day there last winter, met some amazing teachers and truly gifted and inspiring students.

So it is rather difficult today to talk about “10 Tricks To End The Year Strong.” Or share ideas for Teacher Appreciation Week.

But I will do my best.

Ending my year strong has always meant to do whatever it takes to make everyone, students and staff, want to come back next year. There is a reason why the ceremony at the end of the year is called Commencement, or Promotion, or Transition, or some other variation on the term. It isn’t an ending, it’s the beginning of what comes next.

Too often, I hear us talk about how tired we are, how much we look forward to resting, being away from the kids and our colleagues.

What message does this send?

After nine months of telling our students how much we love them, and how they have become a big part of our lives, now we are telling them we need a break from them. And the countdown calendar on the whiteboard only reinforces this attitude.

Have we forgotten that we are the significant, consistent adults in many of their lives? And now they see and hear us tell them, again, that they are unwanted.

My students get enough of that away from school, their stories would break your heart.

Do we need rest? Yes. But find it in our own way, throughout the year. It’s called balance. Think about what went right during the year. Focus on the successes and how it will be even better next year. Focus on the hope of the future, filling your tank, not thinking about how empty it is.

I get it. End of year field trips, field days…office referrals go up as supervision routines go down. The stress of not getting “everything” done goes way up. Testing season is finally over. For the fraternity of administrators, the legislature is out of session, hopefully our elected representatives helped us with the questions we confront daily rather than tell us the answers.

In a nutshell, end with optimism and invitation rather than relief.

I realize that what I have written is unpopular with many of you. But I write from the background of working in some elite schools for nearly 40 years. Most of my career has been spent in minority/majority, high poverty schools. They aren’t like most of your schools. What worked for us isn’t necessarily what is going to work for you and your school.

So be it.

Subtle segue to Teacher Appreciation Week. And Administrative Professional Day. And Paraprofessional Appreciation, et al…

Shouldn’t we be showing our staff how much we appreciate them all the time?

Instead of filling their mailboxes with another coffee cup, water bottle, gift card, cake, cupcakes, t-shirt, or 7″ ruler, all things I have received during my career, try giving your staff the gift of time. Cancel a staff meeting and replace it with an email, cover a duty every now and then. They will appreciate that much more than one more trinket passed out during the Hallmark Week.

As a teacher and administrator, the best way my students or staff could show their appreciation was to take what I had taught them and do great things.

I came of age in the 1960’s. My parents and teachers pushed me, and my generation, to question, challenge and change. It was not “taught” to us, it is not a “skill.” It was instilled into us, it is an attitude.

In this time, when blind obedience is expected and demanded, when anything not accepted by those in charge is declared “fake” and not to be believed or trusted, it fills my heart with joy to see a generation of students from schools like Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and the Highlands Ranch STEM school demand that they be heard, that their agenda take center stage. Their parents, and others in my chosen profession, have instilled the same attitude in them. I am proud to stand with them.

My heart is heavy as school closes this year.

School should be a place where kids prepare for their lives as adults. It should not be a place where too many of them fear they won’t have the chance to become an adult.

The conversations I had with many of our students over the last couple of days were not part of the “curriculum development” classes I took in college. The conversations I have had with many of the same students after each active shooter drill weren’t either. But unfortunately, they have become part of our daily lives.

Kids should not have to make gun laws in schools.

I am looking forward to seeing my students tomorrow. They know that, I get the chance to tell them every afternoon as they leave our building.

I am looking forward to seeing all of my students when we come back to school in August.

I hope they know that.

And I hope all of them walk through our doors.

And so it goes…

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