Valuing Our Educators

The cover of a thank-you note: words on a musical staff next to a treble clef: "A little note of thanks & congratulations!!!""

Who knows the value of an educator? We all do, we just don’t pause often to acknowledge it.

Here are some lessons the student in me values from past educators. Mrs. Magrath and Mr. Sponder taught me being myself was ok. Mr. Palange brought literature to life by acting out characters, while Mrs. Christon taught us how to create our own literature. Mrs. Vasquez taught us not to take anything for granted as she shared her family’s harrowing immigration from Cuba. Mr. LoPresti, my driver’s education instructor in high schools,  could have been a stand-up comedian. Through humor he took away my fear of driving. Ms. Chambers taught me that not making the cut (basketball team) didn’t mean I was of no value. I learned to keep stats for the team and loved it! I got to attend all games, without sweating, and something I really needed, a place to belong. And Mrs. Palmer Hoyle taught me that you could find beauty in everything if you allowed the beauty in yourself to bloom. These lessons were life lessons I still value, along with the educators who shared them.

Parents also know the value of an educator, even if it’s delayed knowledge. As a parent, who was also a teacher, my own vision sometimes blurred. I knew I had more insight into my students than their parents did because of the environment I saw them in. I witnessed their interactions with subject matter and peers.  Extracurricular activities allowed me to see them in an additional setting. The comfort they felt talking to me opened my eyes to insights their parents may not have been privy to. However, when it came to my own children, it was difficult to admit someone else might know best. Just as doctors, I’m told,  are sometimes the worse patients, parents, if not instantly, do come to value the wisdom of educators.

As a colleague I know the value of educators. At an event I was asked to address, in three minutes or less, how School Board Members and Superintendents could support and make teachers feel valued; if I’d had any support that was especially noteworthy; and, how, as districts were trying to increase the number of teachers of color, those teachers could best be supported.  My response:

Teaching today is no easy feat. My career began in the early 80’s. There were no personal cellphones, computers, 3D video games, etc. for us to compete with. Engaging and keeping students engaged is much more of a challenge now.  For teachers to feel supported by you, I would suggest the following:

  1. Listen. Even if you do not like or agree with a point we are trying to make, allow us to state it. We need to be heard… it makes a world of difference.
  1. Don’t judge a book by its cover. I cannot count the number of times I have seen people passed over for positions that are given to those that ‘look’ the part, i.e., makeup intact, or clothes from stores in which I can’t afford to shop. I’ve never been that person, BUT, this is definitely where I am supposed to be and what I’m supposed to be doing.
  1. Show up for our events in, and outside, of school. Be visible. When you are, even when we do not agree with policies you put in place, we know that we are valued, and it makes your decisions easier to accept.
  1. Send one line thank yous, “I appreciate you,” “It was nice to see you,” “It was a pleasure to visit your class,” etc. Little things matter.
  1. Don’t get stuck in checklists. My classroom had no whiteboard and no room to add one. I was interacting with students through technology when a team came in for a walk through. I ran to switch the smartboard over to my objectives so the evaluator could check off the objective box. That broke the flow of my lesson and my students’ learning. This shouldn’t be necessary!

For noteworthy support, my points described my former and current, (at that time), Superintendents, John Ramos, Fran Rabinowitz and Dr. Aresta Johnson. In addition to the support already mentioned, add for minority educators, cultural/diversity awareness, allowing freedom regarding cultural dress, clothing, hairstyles, and celebrations without penalty.

Educators are professionals. Showing you recognize our value goes a long way, thank you. 2:59 minutes!”

My response today is the same. Educators’ knowledge, passion, dedication, and honesty intrigued me and made me a lifelong learner. There is no greater way to make a positive impact on this world, than teaching. We all know, but must show, we value those who choose this honorable profession.

Sheena Graham began teaching in 1983. She offered workshops on music literacy and connecting parents and teachers, while writing original musicals and creating teaching tools for colleagues.  Her recording and writing experience is extensive. Ms. Graham’s original works have been performed locally, at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. and twice at the White House. Her passion for reengaging disengaged students has led to her receiving the Beard Excellence in Teaching Award, among many others. She is Connecticut’s 2019 Teacher of the Year. Her advice to others is, “Do not let your image be designed by your inactivity.” Ms. Graham retired from teaching in December, 2021.