(Teams of) Teacher(s) Appreciation Week
Teacher Appreciation Week has once again resulted in the extension of good will to teachers in the form of tweets, articles, and various other virtual shout-outs. Although it is nice to see this outpouring of appreciation for teachers (who are the lifeblood of the much-maligned public education system), it is essential that we take a stand to support teachers not only this week, but next week and every week hereafter by putting systems in place that make the expectations we have for them clearer (this does not mean lower), the training and development we offer them more aligned with reality, and the ways in which we evaluate them fairer and more useful. Instead of compiling stories of teachers who inspired students with their individual heroism (though there are many), I’d like to celebrate Teacher Appreciation Week by offering a different form of support: discussing how great teaching can be nurtured and facilitated for all practitioners.
Even during a week devoted to celebration, we cannot ignore the fact that teachers have become the scapegoats of the national dissatisfaction with education. We’ve singled them out as the problem, but we’ve not really figured out an effective way for them to be part of the solution. With all the current alarmist rhetoric about the state of public education in the United States, it appears that we have missed the educational boat that other countries are using to sail towards economic competitiveness. This despair might lead one to believe that there is little we can do except bash our teachers more loudly and test our students more often
Anustup Nayak’s recent article in the Harvard Business Review initially appears to articulate many of the same concerns about India that dominate the discourse here in the U.S .—bad teachers who allow their students to leave school without mastery of basic concepts. But instead of bashing teachers, Nayak shows us that within these common struggles there are common strategies for change.
The main thrust of Nayak’s article is that so-called bad teachers have been blamed for causing the problem when, in reality, they are the result of a flawed system – one that does not develop and support good teaching. He identifies several critical ingredients for good teaching, none of which require individual teachers with inhuman levels of drive to single-handedly step in and save the entire system on their own. Instead, his vision is one of collaboration, institutional support, and ongoing professional development: “What if we create a continuous teacher education program situated inside the classroom, that gets teachers to observe expert demonstrations, discern effective classroom management practices and ‘micro-teach’ lessons and finally get constructive feedback?” This argument is just as applicable to the U.S. as it is to India.
Nayak’s ideas for teacher support resonate with NCTAF’s work in both our TLINC and Learning Studios projects. In both of these initiatives, we cultivate meaningful, goal-directed collaboration that will empower teachers to seek new content knowledge and innovative teaching strategies throughout their careers. As an organization, NCTAF believes, as Nayak suggests in his article, that good (and, eventually, great) teaching comes from schools organized for success—that is, from sustained collaboration among teachers supported by administrators—not from the heroism of a few individuals.
Just as it took teams of engineers or scientists to bring to everyday use the greatest inventions of our age, teams of teachers will be able to prepare tomorrow’s innovators if we empower them to do so. Let’s celebrate teacher appreciation week by supporting educators as professionals who work in teams to accomplish more than any individual working alone.