Teachers Are Indispensable—So Why Aren’t We Treating Them Like It?

School leaders weigh in on ways schools, communities, and policymakers can step up and show up for teachers in a post-pandemic world.

Teacher Appreciation Week kicks off May 8-12, 2023—and showing appreciation for teachers has a whole new meaning post-pandemic.

“Teachers are overwhelmed because they are trying to maintain pre-pandemic standards for post-pandemic kids,” said Joel Slater, principal of Leesville Road Elementary School in Lynchburg, Virginia. “We are facing a shortage of quality leaders for classrooms and in the front offices in every school building. If lawmakers would focus on quality preparation and increase the salaries and resources of teachers and administrators then test scores will follow. Quality inputs bring quality results.”

The Educator Pipeline

Recently, a bicameral group of legislators introduced the EDUCATORS for America Act—a bill to address teacher shortages to the tune of $1 billion a year in an effort to build a new educator pipeline that will ensure all schools have the diverse, profession-ready teachers, principals, librarians, counselors, and other specialized instructional support personnel they need to support student development and academic achievement.

This support can’t come soon enough. The education workforce is facing twin pressures of more educators leaving the profession while fewer people are choosing to become educators, leaving schools across the country, especially in rural areas, struggling to fill a full range of staff positions.

“The EDUCATORS for America Act is a much-needed national investment in school leaders and staff so students can be supported by the qualified professionals they need to succeed,” said NAESP Executive Director L. Earl Franks, Ed.D., CAE, in a statement on behalf of the association.

Student and Staff Support

We asked members what they want legislators to know before they make decisions that have ripple effects in every school in the country. No surprise, principals were focused on supports for students and faculty and staff.

The pandemic highlighted inequities in the education system that had been overlooked for decades. In the efforts to address these long-standing issues and to advocate for their students, principals explicitly mean all students—and funding that ensures that can happen.

“I want them to know how important education is and how every child needs the same opportunities, regardless of their ZIP code,” said Matthew Moyer, principal of Rupert Elementary School in Pottstown, Pennsylvania. “Fair funding is important.”

Funding is important in every aspect of education, especially the educator pipeline.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 270,000 teachers were projected to leave the field each year between 2016 and 2026. The pandemic only accelerated this trend. At the same time, enrollment in educator preparation programs is plummeting. School districts across the nation are struggling to fill positions. For far too long now, they’ve become adept at finding creative solutions to staffing shortages, but it doesn’t mean they should have to.

“We work hard to build an environment that children want to come to daily,” said Leslie Kapuchuck, principal of McGaheysville Elementary School in McGaheysville, Virginia. “Our students deserve the best teachers and administrators, so these pipelines must grow. In my school, we are genuinely looking at what we can eliminate so that the job is sustainable and our students have highly qualified teachers and staff.”

Teacher Appreciation

Teachers are the single most important factor in determining student success. They’re indispensable—and they should be treated like it. As we celebrate Teacher Appreciation Week, we look to our members to find out how they show their teachers just how much they mean to them and their school communities.

“We have a daily menu during [Teacher Appreciation Week] with a breakfast bar, a luncheon, and raffles for gift baskets,” said Fran Hansell, principal of Cielo Vista Elementary School in Rancho Santa Margarita, California. “We embed trivia questions in our weekly bulletin and give a Starbucks gift card to the first one with the answer. It’s a great way to get staff to scroll all the way through the bulletin, too. As the principal, I take a duty, read in classrooms, and release teachers to observe colleagues.”

It’s an opportunity to get the community and families involved, too.

“Our PTA takes the lead for Teacher Appreciation Week,” said Ed Cosentino, principal of Clemens Crossing Elementary School in Columbia, Maryland. “I do a lot of fun things throughout the year to appreciate the staff. This year, I created Wordles that showed 10 adjectives about each person. Before winter and spring breaks, I create a series of days to appreciate teachers and staff. I like to surprise staff along the way throughout the year.”

Cosentino is right: Celebrating and honoring teachers doesn’t stop after Teacher Appreciation Week ends.

“Our schoolwide teambuilding activity was One Word,” said Tiffany Rehbein, principal of Bain Elementary School in Cheyenne, Wyoming. “Each teacher picked one word to ‘live by’ this school year. Once a month at faculty meetings, teachers returned to this word and shared how they have lived by it. I had our high school make individual wood plaques of each word that staff shared. They will receive it as a gift to display in their room.”

School leaders are doing everything they can to show teachers how much they appreciate what they do for their students, how they overcome obstacles in innovative ways, and how they consistently show up for their students every single day. Now it’s our time to show up for them.

So much more can be done on the federal level to boost the educator pipeline, retain high-quality teachers, and recruit the next generation of educators. It’s a year-round commitment to advocating for what teachers need to do their jobs well, and NAESP remains committed to supporting school leaders in these efforts because teachers are the backbone of our education system, and they must be treated as such.

David Griffith is associate executive director of Policy and Advocacy at NAESP.