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“Our progress as a nation can be no swifter than our progress in education. The human mind is our fundamental resource.”

John F. Kennedy

Parents across the country are scrambling to collect coffee shop vouchers, pick flowers and help children pen notes of thanks this week as we launch into our annual Teacher Appreciation Week in most of the USA (Massachusetts sets it`s own day in June).

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The roots of this tradition are somewhat murky, but it is believed to be supported by Eleanor Roosevelt, who in 1953 persuaded Congress to proclaim a National Teacher`s Day. This followed nearly a decade of correspondence between a Wisconsin teacher named Ryan Krug and various political and education leaders about the need to honor teachers with a special day of recognition. The NEA and affiliates lobbied Congress continually and March 7th 1980 was declared a one-off National Day for Teachers. The NEA and affiliates continued to observe Teacher`s Day as the second Tuesday in March until 1985, when the national PTA established the first full week in May as National Teacher Appreciation Week, with Tuesday of that week National Teacher Day.

Many countries around the world observe similar days and weeks of recognition at various times during the year.

Closer to home, American schools choose to follow the week in their own way. Some may set a theme for each day, such as a flower on Monday, a note on Tuesday, something that is the teacher`s favorite color on Wednesday, and so on. Other schools opt to recognize both teachers and ancillary staff on certain days, such as the front office staff on Monday, the health and hygiene staff on Tuesday, perhaps the food service staff on Wednesday and then the teachers on Thursday or Friday.

But why single out teachers for special recognition?! We all work hard and do the best we can at what we do. “Teachers get all those long holidays!” “Teacher`s only work until 3pm every day!” “Teacher`s have so much job security!” These are common misconception. And on the surface at least some of these impressions appear to be true. But dig a little deeper, and it quickly becomes apparent that teaching is only part of what teachers actually do for their schools and communities.

Great teachers teach – of course they do. But while you can lead a child to knowledge, you can`t necessarily make them learn. Teachers have to do this every day across barriers of age, language, ethnicity and subject. And this is just one part of a teachers day.

Great teachers learn – the field of education research is constantly changing, and teachers need to keep up with the latest developments in order to become better, more effective teachers. In addition to formal training days they may also take evening and weekend classes in Masters level subjects, all with the end goal of deepening their subject knowledge and building on their skills in conveying that knowledge to a group of reluctant students! They attend conferences, network and exchange information with other teachers, all with the goal of doing what they do as well as they can for the benefit of their students.

Great teachers inspire – standing in front of a class quoting facts for memorization at a group of bored teenagers is not going to win you any Teacher of the Year awards! Teachers are performers, catching a child`s attention and imagination. They are psychologists, noting in a group of 30+ students who may be having problems, often with a cause unrelated to education, and supporting their students through those difficulties. They are mediators, negotiators and diplomats when the situation calls for it, guiding a path for the student and parents through various different agencies. They are managers and leaders, motivating their team of students to get the very best from them without the tactic of a monthly salary to offer them!

Great teachers care – they stretch themselves way beyond their classroom routine, working behind the scenes to ensure their lessons are entertaining and engaging, that the curriculum path is just the right pace, and that work is graded appropriately and potential problems identified and corrected before they develop into bigger issues. They work with parents, PTA, tutors, legal and government agencies because they care about each individual students happiness and well-being beyond the walls of the classroom.

Next to parents, teachers are the most important adult influence in a child`s life. They need to be role models, setting a model of behavior and trust for young minds to aspire to. We all know that teachers teach. Great teachers do so much more. They motivate, inspire and lead, and in doing so, they can literally change lives. So when you’re helping your child write their note of thanks for their teacher this week, select a piece of fruit or pick a flower from your garden, remember for a moment the name of that teacher you had at school – the one that inspired you. The one that made you feel you could do more than you ever believed possible. And know that one day your child will be remembering this teacher for themselves as they do the same thing for their children, in a future that this teacher now in the present is aspiring them towards.

Happy Teacher Appreciation Week!

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