Marcia DeSalvo is a teacher leader at Mariana Bracetti Academy Charter School, completing her Principal Certification. In this blog post, she tackles the idea of what teachers really want (and need) to survive in the ever-changing and demanding profession.
I was out to dinner with a non-teacher friend recently, and while swapping our work “war” stories, she turned to me and said, “Well, at least you’ve got your summer off, what more could you want?”
While usually a comment like that would raise my blood pressure to unsafe levels, this wasn’t a rude person at a dinner party insinuating I don’t work hard, or that teaching is for those who “can’t do.” This was my friend.
She knew how hard I worked, how many times I’ve gone without a raise because of budget constraints, how many Donor’s Choose projects I’ve created, and how much I love my kids and my job.
The more I thought about it, this was a good question—what do teachers really want?
- To be Appreciated: Right alongside nurses and first responders, teaching is what many call a thankless profession. Anyone entering the field knows that, but few recognize the mental toll it can take on you day in and out. Every teacher I know works well over the standard 40 hours a week, and many give their time to coach sports, advise clubs, provide tutoring after school, and answer emails late into the night. And all that isn’t so bad when your work is valued. But when it isn’t, you can truly feel like the hamster spinning the wheel. While community members, students and parents do not always let us know about how much they value our time and commitment, school administrators can! At my school, our leadership team hosts happy hours (in the form of coffee and donuts), a yearly staff luncheon, teacher dress down days, and shout outs via email or handwritten notes. These simple and small tokens of appreciations serve to let staff know their energy and work is appreciated and notable.
- 25/8: If you are a teacher (or live with one) you know there never seems to be enough time. Time to grade papers. Time to plan lessons. Time to make parent calls. Time to conference. If only there was an extra hour in the day, extra day in the week! Teacher task time is precious. Having your prep taken hostage and/or your afternoons dictated by what appear to be “meaningless” meetings is infuriating for any teacher. When time is so valuable, every moment matters. I’m lucky to work at a school that has made major strides in protecting teacher task time, and it’s made a huge difference in the lives of our teachers. Having time to prep, co-plan, and be available to our students after school has improved the school culture and climate. When our administration does schedule events during our prep/afternoon time we know it’s for something important.
- A Space to Fail: As a new and young teacher, I was eager to try anything and everything in order to perfect my craft. In searching for what kind of a classroom teacher I’d be (one who focused on student centered vs. teacher centered learning) I needed to try (and fail!) a lot. I was learning alongside my students (albeit the art and craft of teaching, not content) but damn, was it hard. Some of my ideas were crazy but beautiful—s’mores assembly line simulation, anyone—while others were downright terrible. But if I didn’t teach in a place that let me navigate those waters without judgment or penalty, I’d be a completely different teacher than I am today. All that trying (and failing) was so critical in my growth. Now, I know how to navigate the decision-making process whenever a new or innovative strategy or lesson pops into my mind. But the veteran teacher can only make those decisions with clarity and grace because their former novice teacher self tried and failed so much.
- Opportunities to Advance: One misconception about charter schools is that they are filled with young, inexperienced, and transitioning educators. Where I teach, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Our staff is comprised of all walks of life and various years of experience. Most of our administration began their careers teaching in our school, and there are opportunities to advance as teacher leaders and administrators.
- Safe and Well: The psychology teacher in me recognizes how incredibly important it is to feel safe in your work environment. Unfortunately, there are many teachers in many districts who enter their classrooms and schools each day not feeling this way. I’m lucky to work in a school that is ALICE trained and serves as a training site for other community schools, businesses and churches. We have achieved high rankings and designations as a PA Safe School, and have installed the latest technology to keep our students, families and staff safe. More importantly, we provide opportunities like staff mindfulness, Wellness Wednesdays, and “Fun” Friday’s to keep staff stress levels low. Safety and wellness is a priority for us because a healthy and safe staff is a happy and productive staff!
The truth is, I can’t create a comprehensive list about all things teachers what, but this is a start. At the end of the day, we want to do our jobs, serve our students and families and go home to our families each night with a full heart, decent paycheck, and some energy left to get through a whole episode of “This is Us.” Oh, and our summers off; we still want our summers off!