Teacher Appreciation Week: It’s Not Just About Saying Thank You

By: Andrew Campanella

This week is Teacher Appreciation Week.

As the proud son of a public school teacher and someone who benefited from the wisdom, guidance, knowledge, and care of so many teachers throughout my own K-12 education, this week is important to me. It is important to every American.

This week, we appreciate that great teaching requires strong leadership. Teachers are leaders not only in their classrooms, but in their schools and communities.

This week, we appreciate the depth of knowledge that teachers bring to their work, along with their ability to convey that knowledge and spark a love of learning in students.

This week, we appreciate the things – some big and some small – that so many teachers do every day to help kids. Often, these things are outside of any written job description, but these actions build bonds of trust between educators and families that help facilitate learning.

I also hope that this week we finally recognize and celebrate the essential role that teachers have played in expanding access to new and different educational opportunities for children. Alongside tireless and dedicated parents, teachers are school choice heroes. 

In 1968, America’s first public magnet school opened in Tacoma, Washington. The idea for that school grew out of an ad hoc committee of public school teachers, searching for ways to address segregation while ensuring equal educational opportunities for children. Because of their leadership, today there are thousands of public magnet schools across America. These schools attract and educate students based on themes like math, science, technology, and the performing arts. 

In 1991 and 1992, three public school teachers led the effort to open the nation’s first public charter school, in St. Paul, Minnesota. Their goal was to create a school that helped prevent low-income students from dropping out of school. By creating a new type of school, one with the ability to try new instructional methods and innovate, these teachers helped to start a nationwide movement. Today, there are more than 6,000 public charter schools serving millions of children.

In 1991, a teacher in Pennsylvania opened America’s first accredited, private online school. Soon after that, teachers in California and Florida opened America’s first fully public online academies. These teachers harnessed the power of America’s growing technological revolution to help students learn in new and different ways. Today, students in 34 states can attend full-time, tuition-free online academies.

These are three powerful, history-changing examples. But there are so many other stories to tell, of teachers who work to strengthen and improve our traditional public schools, of teachers who create and expand private and independent schools, and of teachers who provide support and resources to homeschooling families. These are achievements that deserve our appreciation, too.

Every year, during National School Choice Week, parents and children wave signs that read, “Great Teachers Change Lives.” When I see photos of people with these signs, I am reminded of the stakes in K-12 education. What’s at stake are children’s lives, their futures, their dreams. Great teachers are changing lives for the better. That deserves appreciation.

Let’s challenge ourselves to go beyond the traditional ways of celebrating Teacher Appreciation Week. We should all be writing notes to the teachers currently in our lives or those that impacted us at a young age to remind them just how important the work they do is. 

But, more than giving an apple, card, or baked good one day a year, let’s honor teachers’ leadership by listening to their ideas to provide even greater opportunities for children. Let’s listen to the ideas and feedback from teachers in all types of schools. 

After all, it took bold teacher leadership to help build the magnet, charter, and online school movements and expand opportunity on an unprecedented scale. What will the next generation of teachers create?