Teacher Appreciation Week is one of my favorite times of the school year! Honoring the educators who spend countless hours creating lesson plans, building authentic relationships, and welcoming students into the learning space – whether it be in-person, online, or both – has been such a joy. I think back to my time growing up and fondly remember those who influenced me with their encouraging words, supportive nature, and praise of my efforts. My teachers, Ms. Pendergast, Mrs. Dixon, and Mr. Anderson were just three of many educators that left a lasting impression by showing me how much effort matters. I am grateful to them and to have this incredible opportunity to honor the efforts made by our nation’s teachers.
I am appreciative of the pre-service teachers that are just entering classrooms for the first time. They bring such joy, hope, and creativity to the field. I have been inspired this past year watching new teachers step into the field while navigating the challenges of virtual job searches and amidst the new challenges facing education during the pandemic. The circumstances in which these educators have trained for has changed dramatically yet new teachers poured their passion into our nation’s classrooms bringing energy in the midst of immense changes to the field. I appreciate the commitment and problem-solving they are bringing to the classroom to help our nation’s students navigate new learning environments and experience academic and social success. These educators study, revise, and apply new learning to continually improve their practice.
Thank goodness for experienced mentor teachers who help usher the next generation through all the trials and tribulations of getting started in the classroom! This year was especially unique as veteran teachers were faced with new challenges of their own. Still, many took on the challenge of supporting new teachers and welcoming them to the field. It’s incredibly important that new teachers have a safe, caring relationship with experienced teachers, but these efforts take time and concerted effort. Experienced teachers work side-by-side helping new educators grow and develop professionally by offering guidance, co-developing lessons, and crafting continual feedback. At the same time, veteran educators seek out new techniques and refine their own practice. In new roles I have taken on, I have valued the people that let me ask questions and were there to support me when I stumbled. It is gratifying to see that these professional relationships often help teachers feel more connected to each other, to their schools, and to the profession.
One of the most amazing things I’ve witnessed this year is the efforts that teachers and school staff have made to personally connect with their students. Morning meetings, daily celebrations, check-ins, and even daily conversation starters about students’ lives have taken on new importance. I’ve seen new and veteran teachers reach out and forge those special connections with their students and tying their interests into lessons. I love hearing the connections my own children are making in their classrooms when we have been home together this past year. This special connection between teachers and their students is one I hope we continue to nurture as we return to in-person learning.
Along my life’s journey, I have been blessed to have teachers and faculty who were committed to my success, from preschool through law school. As the daughter of a math teacher and a computer scientist who served as adjunct faculty, both of my parents instilled in me a desire to help craft a better system; one where all families and students feel welcomed and supported the same way I did. I am thrilled to know new and veteran teachers are committed to supporting and learning from one another. Though new teachers and veterans both face unique challenges, they commit to improving their craft collaboratively, putting in time, effort, and attention to ongoing learning for themselves and their students. Our teachers are determined to create a path forward where all children can thrive. It is with deepest appreciation that we honor the work of these teachers, this and every week.
Donna Harris-Aikens is the Senior Advisor for Policy and Planning in the Office of the Secretary.