Saturday, January 26, 2008

Thank you: a little phrase with a big pay off

I have been out in the schools recently observing fabulous teaching in several schools. I've seen a math teacher read a book about Descartes's invention of the coordinate plane, watched an engaging lesson on mood and tone in poetry, witnessed an English teacher write with her students and share her thoughts with them, experienced the excitement as science students collected and recorded weather data, listened in awe as students discussed the characters in Sense and Sensibility, and watched students explore Islamic religious beliefs as they dramatized commercials about them. I've seen students engaged in small group work as they created posters to describe their perfect teacher and seen students work together to remember terminology related to scientific equipment. In all of these classroom visits, I've seen inspirational teaching - but here's the thing. When I send a message to the teachers pointing out how great the lessons were, how much I enjoyed being privy to such wonderful teaching, the teachers were like parched plants receiving water after a 2-year drought. They actually thank me for noticing. How is it that these teachers don't hear praise every week? Every day?

It points to another factor in the attrition rate in teaching - when people don't feel appreciated, it makes all the petty things in life loom larger than they are. Teachers are some of the most criticized folks I know - this country has piled increasing expectations on classroom teachers and never once said thank you -- thank you for teaching children who have a difficult time learning because they are so busy surviving; thank you for working in buildings in a state of disrepair no self respecting business man would ever tolerate; thank you for taking care of children and adolescents before, during , and after school hours, for feeding them breakfast and lunch, for staying after school and helping them with homework, for coaching their sports teams, for caring about children when no one else seems to notice.

When teachers who are exceptional thank you for noticing their work, it makes you stop and think of what might happen if principals and colleagues took the time to notice, too.

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