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Thank a Teacher -- Please!


StarrPoints Why do teachers teach? Certainly not for the money! The best teachers teach because they want to make a difference in the lives of their students and in the future of their world. To keep those teachers teaching, schools and communities need to find ways to let them know that they're succeeding.

My teacher was
Teacher of the Month
At Our Town School.

When was the last time you saw that bumper sticker proudly displayed on a car (or bicycle) in your town? When was the last time you saw a plaque in your school's lobby honoring its teacher of the year? When was the last time your school held an assembly to thank a teacher for a job well done? In fact, when was the last time your school or district took the time to recognize the day-to-day efforts of your best teachers? Or does your community think that a teacher's salary is reward enough?

Let's face it. From a career standpoint, teaching doesn't have a lot to recommend it. Salaries are among the lowest of all professions with similar educational requirements. Opportunities for advancement are virtually nil. Working conditions are stressful. Supervision is spotty and real help is rare -- although criticism, complaints, and second-guessing are plentiful. As for perks -- most teachers would probably have to look up that word in an administrator's dictionary.

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Linda Starr, a former teacher and the mother of four children, has been an education writer for nearly two decades. Starr is the curriculum and technology editor for Education World.

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So why do they do it, if not for the money or the career opportunities or the perks? The best teachers teach because they want to make a difference -- in the lives of their students and in the future of their world. To keep those teachers teaching, schools and communities must let them know they're succeeding.

Schools need to find small ways to thank their many good teachers. Every school has teachers who come in early and stay late, teachers who are always ready to lend a helping hand or share an innovative lesson, teachers who provide emergency tech assistance, teachers who regularly go above and beyond the call of duty in one way or another. Why not let them -- and others -- know that those efforts matter by instituting a teacher of the week award? Acknowledge the extra efforts with an announcement on the school intercom -- and a notation in their personnel records. If your school has the resources, reward those teachers with an extra professional day, a coveted software program, museum tickets, or admission to a local education conference as well. (If your school doesn't have the resources, find local businesses that will provide them.)

Communities need to find big ways to reward their best teachers. In Texas, for example, the H-E-B supermarket chain sponsors the Excellence in Teaching Awards. This program awards 30 regional finalists and their schools $1,000 each; the six winners and their schools divide an additional $160,000.

In Illinois, K-12 teachers in Cook, Lake, and DuPage County are eligible for the annual Golden Apple Award, in which ten teachers are awarded a paid, fall-term sabbatical at Northwestern University, a $2,500 stipend, and an Apple computer system. Northwestern provides the tuition-free sabbaticals, and Apple donates the use of computer systems.

Good teachers create good employees and good citizens. Many businesses and community organizations are willing to return the favor with significant monetary rewards.

Teacher morale today is at an all-time low. Kids are tougher. Money is tighter. Scrutiny is relentless. Many experienced teachers, who entered the profession to make a difference, now are hoping only to make it to retirement. New teachers, burdened with the same goals, are struggling just to make it through their first year.

If school districts -- most of which are experiencing what promises to be only the beginning of a serious teacher shortage -- are going to attract and keep quality people, they do need to offer competitive salaries and performance-based incentives. They also need to remember, however, that standard compensation packages really don't address the reasons most teachers teach.

Let's all work together to find a way to recognize the efforts and successes of individual teachers, to say to each of them, "Thank you. You are making a difference."