Teacher Appreciation Week is a good start, but why do teachers get a week while entertainers get our praise, tweets, fan mail and attention 24/7/365? Why do entertainers get red carpets, limousines, Emmys, Oscars, and Grammys, while teachers get apples, cards, plaques, and mugs? Why do we value our celebrities so highly but give our educators short shrift -- and, too often, complete disrespect?
Take, for example, the blog post titled "Teachers Can't Be Trusted to Regulate Themselves." It was written in response to a series of letters published by Washington Post education columnist Valerie Strauss. The first was from a "disgusted teacher," who was dismayed, angry, tired, and quitting the profession. The second was written and tearfully read to the author's school board by yet another veteran teacher who'd had enough. The third was penned by one more discouraged teacher, retiring from his position because his "profession...no longer exists."
These letters filled me with distress and sadness. Far too often excellent educators are walking away, unable to see the point in keeping up a fight that is stacked against them. The letters represent the despair and frustration being felt by educators all throughout the country - educators who feel overworked and undervalued, but who mostly feel ineffective as they're forced to implement practices they know to be inappropriate and insufficient in meeting the needs of today's students. Education "reform" and policies put in place by people who know little or nothing about education or children's needs are driving educators from the field because they no longer see even a glimmer of hope.
But the above-mentioned blogger didn't view the letters through the same lens as mine. Rather, he referred to them as temper tantrums and their writers as whiners, and offered his solutions to the problems that plague American education. The author? A software engineer.
Apparently it's true what they say: everyone has an opinion on education. Because they went to school, they think they know how schools should be run.
Once upon a time, teachers were highly regarded. They were trusted to know their craft. Parents deferred to their wisdom. Society as a whole embraced their value. In some cultures (think Finland), this is still true. But here in the United States, we have made them scapegoats.
Last year a small group of people asked, what difference, if any, would it make if we honored our educators as we honor entertainers? What would it say to the nation if we actually treated teachers like celebrities? How might it change the way the next generation thinks about our educators, our schools, and most importantly, the value of lifelong learning? How might it change our culture?
That small group eventually became the Academy of Education Arts and Sciences, of which I'm honored to be a part and which is now comprised of 212 of the nation's most prominent educators and education advocates, including Diane Ravitch, Linda Darling-Hammond, John Merrow, Timothy Shriver, and Daniel Pink. In 2012, 31 amazing educators were selected from disciplines across the entire field, among them teachers, principals, superintendents, school nurses, support staff, advocates, researchers, school custodians, early childhood specialists, education journalists, and parents. They were all treated like rock stars at a red-carpet event replete with limousines, paparazzi, television camera crews, tuxedos, gowns, and their own distinctive custom award, called a Bammy. Most attendees reported that they had never experienced anything like it.
As one of this year's nominees wrote in his blog, as regards the "Hollywood" treatment,
What a concept! And think of the trickle-down effect of honoring educators this way, which could conceivably change the feelings of efficacy of all educators on a large-scale basis. Ultimately, teachers' feelings of efficacy...can directly impact the culture of a school and ultimately the learning environment for our students across the country.
An attendee, Robert Dillon, wrote:
It is clear that the Bammys are an event that is needed to reshape the mental models surrounding schools and teachers. There are so many incredible things to celebrate in education today, and the momentum remains to talk about the negative and focus on the failure. The Bammys can be a part of the momentum ... that brings our nation back around to a common-sense, solution-oriented approach to moving forward in education.
The Bammys provide a night of celebration, a night of beauty, and a night to hear what is right about our work with kids. Bravo to the Bammys on year one, and I'm looking forward to supporting this celebration for many years to come.
Finally, Principal Peter DeWitt wrote in his blog for Education Week,
The past few years in education have been hard. Between mandates, accountability, and the negative media focusing on what is wrong with our public school system, education has felt more like a battleground than a place to educate and inspire students. We have seen teachers and administrators quit because of the pressure. Politicians and policymakers campaigned against public education in an effort to get re-elected.
The Bammy Awards want more for teachers and administrators. The awards are meant to focus on everything that is good about education, and we all know that there is a great deal of good in education.
The positive response to last year's ceremony was overwhelming. (To see what happened, click here.) You can help make it happen again by nominating a teacher, or any educator making a difference, for a 2013 Bammy Award.
There are just a handful of days left. So please take a moment to nominate, and cast a vote for the value of education, the value of lifelong learning, and the value of the people who make it happen.