School is back in session. Everywhere you look there’s back-to-school this, and back-to-school that — whether it’s your neighbor posting pics of their kiddos on social media, a pile of poster ads while you’re shopping, or your own classes starting up again after a much-needed break, it’s everywhere. The first week of September always brings a barrage of reminders that, at least here in the US, classes have once again begun.
Much of the focus on #backtoschool, whether it’s a share on Facebook or a targeted marketing campaign, tends to focus on students and parents of students. They’re going through a big change; they’re kissing their summer breaks good-bye and either mournfully or enthusiastically marching into the school year. But there’s another group undergoing that same transition, and I’d venture to say they might need a little more of your support: Teachers.
Teachers, at most schools, have already been back at work for at least a week or so, and now they’re finally welcoming students back into their classrooms. Teachers are saying good-bye to their own summer vacay, which often for teachers isn’t a vacation at all but simply a time for their own professional education. They are prepping their classrooms and their lesson plans, getting to know 40-100 new students (give or take, depending on the school), and doing their best to establish a healthy classroom culture with the sea of new faces before them. Teachers aren’t just educators, after all — they’re mentors, supporters, coaches, cheerleaders, counselors, and crisis managers. Teachers are the ones who raise a generation of educated citizens, who provide support for adult students, who make arguably one of the biggest differences in our culture through their generosity.
The problem is, teaching is a profoundly difficult career path for even the most passionate, dedicated among us. This time of year is an opportunity to remind teachers that you’ve got their back — that you appreciate them and, more importantly, that you’re ready to support them. How, exactly?
We’re glad you asked. Here’s a few ways to get started:
- Donate. Many teachers use sites like Donors Choose to fund various classroom projects, because the majority of anything beyond the most rudimentary supplies often comes out of teachers’ pockets. They’re given little to no budget to work with, and their salaries (as we all know) are extremely limited. Ask your teacher if they have a Donors Choose page, or another site where you could donate to help with supplies. Or, barring that, simply ask them — is their anything you could pick up? Extra points if you include chocolate and/or alcohol in this ‘donation’; they probably won’t ask for that, but experience tells us they’ll appreciate it.
- Be Aware of Their Time. Listen, we know that involved parents are an important part of a child’s education — but time is a limited resource. Teachers are normally not — I repeat, NOT — paid for overtime, so every email you send asking to change a grade or schedule a meeting eats directly into their paycheck. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ever make requests, of course — just be aware you are one parent or student of many, and save the emails and extra meetings for essentials. Remember, teachers care about you, your student, and their work — they’re obviously not in this for the money — and if they could, they’d spend all their one-on-one time with EVERYONE. But they can’t, so don’t expect them to. Protect their overtime, because it can be difficult for them to protect it themselves.
- Volunteer. If you really want to get some face time with the teacher, offer to help rather than continually asking for more. Do they need a classroom aide? Help grading papers? Coordinating an event? Consider what you might be able to contribute and then offer accordingly. You can volunteer for one-off events, if your schedule is limited, or on a weekly/daily basis if you have more wiggle room. You’ll build a great relationship, and probably learn a lot in the process.
- Express Gratitude. You’d be surprised how far a kind word, email, or thank-you card can go. Teaching is often a hugely thankless job; teachers are in it for love, not for acclaim, and as such often miss out on the recognition they so deserve. Just letting a teacher know how much you appreciate their work can make a world of difference. For that matter, don’t forget to reach out to teachers from years past! We all have that one (or five) teacher that made a lifelong difference in our own little world; why not send them a letter, letting them know how they changed you for the better? Back-to-school can be a fantastic reminder of all the teachers who’ve poured into us; take it as an opportunity and let them know how much it meant to you.
September can be an equally joyful and stressful time for teachers, and as the job gets more and more difficult, less and less people are diving into the career. If we want more generations of great teachers, we need to support them in their work. It’s too important a burden to expect them to bear alone — our future quite literally depends on their success. So this year, every time you see a reminder for back-to-school festivities, remember your teachers — and find a way to make their lives easier.