Celebrate Teachers

Celebrate Teachers

Local educator Atiyah Harmon, founder and executive director of Black Girls Love Math, surrounded by students before a math session at the St. James School in North Philadelphia.

Local educator Atiyah Harmon, founder and executive director of Black Girls Love Math, surrounded by students before a math session at the St. James School in North Philadelphia. Photo by Johann Calhoun

The National PTA reminds everyone to celebrate Teacher Appreciation Week (May 6-10). They say, “Teachers change the lives of millions of children every day. Celebrate the spectacular educators in your life!” I hope that everyone reading this article will take a moment to thank one of your children’s teachers for something that has made a difference to your child.

Also consider sending a note to one of your own teachers who long ago influenced your life. I can personally attest to the joy and fulfillment a teacher experiences from learning about something that made a positive long-term impact on a student. Just last week, a woman (Arcadia University, 1979), who is now the mayor of a town in California, told a colleague at an alumni event that the college English class she took with me stayed with her throughout her life. She wrote on a card, “Jude the Obscure is still one of my favorite books!” By the way, Thomas Hardy’s Jude the Obscure (1895) is highly pertinent today. It’s about a working class young man who dreams of attending the British equivalent of an Ivy League university. In any case, this alum’s note, remembering a class I taught decades ago, made my day.

Go beyond appreciation for individual teachers to support for the profession

It’s a challenging time for teachers, grade school through grad school. Politicians have decided that they know better than educators what to teach and how it should be taught. This attack on education is worse than in the 1950s — the House UnAmerican Activities Committee and the communist-hunting Senator Joseph McCarthy. During the earlier period, individual instructors were targeted for past connections with far-left groups. The 50s have an advantage over our era, since McCarthy was brought down by a direct question on the floor of the Senate from Chief U.S. Army Counsel Joseph Welch, “Have you no sense of decency?” Unfortunately, the attacks today on education cannot be dispelled by that question. I detected little decency at the kangaroo courts conducted by the House Education and Labor Committee during their interrogation of university presidents on December 5 and April 17.

Today the attack is directed at the curriculum itself, what’s written on the syllabus and how it’s taught. Fortunately, Philadelphia has resisted these destructive tendencies. I have written before on the welcome resistance in the suburbs to book banning and curriculum manipulation. We must continue to oppose national trends and to defend educators.

Specific ways to support the teaching profession

Pennsylvania did a good and wise thing by setting aside funds to support student teachers, but that money has already run out, as reported by WHYY: “More PA student teachers apply for stipends than funding can support. Advocates say more aid is needed.”

From time to time we come across something that is a perfect definition of a “no-brainer.” Allocating more funding so that potential Pennsylvania student teachers can be compensated for performing their duties meets all the no-brainer criteria. PA has a serious teacher shortage. In a bipartisan vote, the PA legislature approved an initial amount, which has reached its limit. Many applicants are waiting in the wings to see if it is financially feasible in PA to become teachers. Many will give up without the financial assistance. These funds should be made available immediately.

University teacher preparation programs can help by using university funds to pay student teachers and in other ways, ensuring that potential Philadelphia teachers graduate without debt. I’ve written often about money that universities should invest in lieu of property taxes. I am deeply opposed to the right-wing idea that universities should be punished by taxes on property and on endowments. But universities must voluntarily contribute to the public good in their local region. Supporting prospective teachers is one essential way to do that.

Universities should also develop programs for teacher leadership and then pay teacher-leaders to mentor student teachers, interns, substitutes, and first-year teachers. Season three of Quinta Brunson’s Abbott Elementary deals with the dilemma of Brunson’s character, dedicated teacher Janine Teagues, who is offered a salary increase and additional power if she leaves the Abbott classroom and builds on her administrative internship at the School District of Philadelphia.

After much soul-searching, Janine returns to teaching second grade at Abbott. In real life, the District, in partnership with graduate programs at Philadelphia universities, should develop programs where gifted teachers can be compensated and honored for staying in the classroom and mentoring novices.

What you can do:

  • Thank a teacher.
  • Lobby PA legislators to increase the funds available to pay student teachers.
  • Urge Philadelphia universities to make it possible for prospective teachers to graduate debt-free.
  • Encourage Philadelphia universities and the School District to cooperate on funding teacher-leader programs.

Let’s make Teacher Appreciation Week especially meaningful this year.

Correction: A previous version of this post misstated the title and job description of Chief U.S. Army Counsel Joseph Welch.

Elaine Maimon, Ph.D., is an Advisor at the American Council on Education. She is the author of Leading Academic Change: Vision, Strategy, Transformation. Her long career in higher education has encompassed top executive positions at public universities as well as distinction as a scholar in rhetoric/composition. Her co-authored book, Writing In The Arts and Sciences, has been designated as a landmark text. She is a Distinguished Fellow of the Association for Writing Across the Curriculum. Follow @epmaimon on X.


Read More