Teacher Appreciation Post Script: What the System Really Appreciates

I hate to end teacher appreciation week on a negative note, but as it drew to a close today I found myself thinking about what the system actually appreciates instead of teachers.

We are getting a new textbook for next school year. I went to an online overview of the textbook and its digital platform this week. It is not a bad textbook; as textbooks go, it’s actually quite a good one. Except that the textbook, in the words of the BeeGees, “just wants to be your everything.”

The textbook supplies you not just with texts, but with all different ways to introduce the texts, ways to interact with the texts, ways to assess your students’ reading ability with the text. It supplies you with lesson plans. It supplies you with everything. As the person leading the training said, “You shouldn’t ever have to leave the platform – everything you need is here!”

Which is another way of saying, “You, the teacher, have nothing to bring to the table.” The textbook does it all. You are a paid presenter of our textbook.

Again, this isn’t a bad textbook, and it does try to address the need for teachers to have some autonomy. But it gives us autonomy within the constraints of their book and their platform.

But textbooks are only one example of a larger phenomenon: the system does not appreciates teachers. It appreciates everything but teachers.

The system – which includes the Federal Government, state governments, local districts, and sometimes even the schools themselves – does not want talented, thoughtful, creative teachers. If it did, it would not try to undermine talented, thoughtful creative teachers by coming up with ways to undercut their talents, thinking, and creativity.

What does the system value?

Well, the system appreciates textbooks. But also programs. Especially programs with numbers at the end. Reading 3000! Comprehension 200! Writing 360!

The system also appreciates Fidelity to programs.

The system appreciates videos that teach: Edgenuity, Khan Academy, YouTube Teachers!

The system appreciates apps: Class Dojo, Pear Deck, Nearpod.

The system appreciates curriculum maps, pacing guides, and other top- down forms of control.

The system appreciates standardized assessments and the data they generate. It appreciates assessments so much that I have lost 21 days of teaching to assessment-giving, national, state, and district, this year.

The system appreciates conformity. In an ideal world, the system would have every teacher who teaches a subject doing the same exact thing in their classrooms on the same day, at the exact same time, all year.

If you want to appreciate me as a teacher, let me feel that I have something to offer. Don’t plan my entire year for me. Appreciate my knowledge. Appreciate my insight. Appreciate my creativity and my desire to lead my students into deeper levels of learning.

Appreciate me instead of gizmos and gadgets, programs and platforms.

It’s easy to wish us Happy Teacher Appreciation Week. It’s also easy to make us feel unappreciated all year long by sending us the message that we have nothing to bring to the classroom except our compliance.