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Voices: A Teacher Appreciation Day plea for time and support

In advance of Teacher Appreciation Day, Lyons Middle/Senior High School biology teacher Sam Holloway asks for more time and support, especially for new teachers.

On May 7th, students and parents across the country will celebrate national Teacher Appreciation Day. As a teacher, I want to take a moment to acknowledge all the great educators around the country – and to address a few misconceptions about the work that we do.

These misconceptions come up all too frequently: that anyone could do what teachers do just as effectively; that we work nine months a year; that teachers are overcompensated for their work. But just like doctors, lawyers, and engineers, teachers are highly qualified professionals. Most of us are teaching because we feel that it is important work, regardless of how many hours it takes. Few of us went into the profession for the money – in fact, when I did the math, I discovered that I was earning less per hour of teaching than I was in college working as a tutor.

These misconceptions underscore the public’s misunderstanding of the reality of teaching. Great teachers have high standards for themselves and for their students, and we often work long hours to make sure that we are doing the best job that we can. Each day I start teaching at 7:30am and deliver lessons to more than 115 students. I stay after school for several hours to lead extra-curricular activities and participate in building/district committees. I continue working at home planning lessons for the coming weeks, grading tests, papers, and lab reports, and making videos to help my students get more from their out-of-class learning time. I often work through lunch so I can meet with students who need extra assistance. I also work right up until bedtime and at least one day on the weekends. This story is typical of teachers everywhere.

For me and for many teachers I know, the work continues through the summer. That’s because our ambitions are always just beyond the reality of what is happening in the classroom. I am constantly striving to be a better teacher and mentor to my students, to help them learn more effectively and develop a deeper, more meaningful and longer-lasting understanding. I do a great deal of professional development, attending workshops and conferences to help me find more effective and more interesting ways to teach science.

Like all professionals, I need time and support to develop my skills, but both time and public support for education are in increasingly short supply. If it was not for the Knowles Science Teaching Foundation, which has funded and supported my professional development for almost four years, I would never be able to engage in the hundreds of hours of PD that I have been lucky enough to receive. I am positive that I wouldn’t be the teacher I am today without KSTF’s enduring support.

As teachers, we are expected to do more with less time and less support this year than we did the year before. This is particularly challenging for new teachers, who are prone to say “yes” to any request made of us because our idealism tells us that we should. Our willingness to overwork ourselves, and to donate virtually all our personal time to our careers is largely why half of all new teachers leave the profession within the first five years of teaching. I am finishing my third year of teaching science in a small, public high school, and I know all too well the challenges of being a new teacher.

If I could ask for a gift in honor of Teacher Appreciation Day, it would be the gift of time and support, not just for me, but for all teachers, and particularly for new teachers. If we don’t support our new teachers, and give them the time they need to focus on their craft, we are going to lose them, and in doing so will do a great disservice to our schools, our society and our future. After all, who is going to teach our kids if all the best and brightest young minds are drawn away from teaching to careers in which time and support are in abundance?

About our First Person series:

First Person is where Chalkbeat features personal essays by educators, students, parents, and others trying to improve public education. Read our submission guidelines here.

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