Mark Brandenberger is principal of Blum Elementary School in Texas' Blum Independent School District.
Teacher Appreciation Week is often celebrated with gifts from students and their parents. Principals and fellow educators take a rare break from their busy schedules to appreciate teachers for the important work they do to educate our next generation. While the act of appreciating teachers is incredibly important, the gift cards, coffee mugs and a snack in the break room don’t quite cut it. Teachers need to be appreciated throughout the entire year by giving them the tools they need to succeed in their classrooms, and to ultimately help kids succeed.
Take any other profession. If you’re a chef, your restaurant provides you with the utensils, ingredients and anything else you might need to prepare a great meal. Doctors expect to have all the supplies needed to examine and treat a patient. Car mechanics have access to the parts and equipment required to complete their work. What’s more, when individuals in a given profession don’t have immediate access to what they need, they can request it.
Yet the same can’t be said for teachers.
A recent NPR/Ipsos poll found that more than eight out 10 teachers buy their own school supplies. And according to a 2016 report by Scholastic, educators spend an average of $530 of their own money each year on classroom materials, although teachers at my school say that number can sometimes range into the thousands of dollars.
But it’s not just a financial burden. Creating materials and curriculum requires energy and countless hours from our instructors outside of the classroom. Our society has come to accept this as a reality for our teachers rather than an anomaly.
We need to do more for our teachers. Funding is limited, textbooks are old, and there seems to be a never-ending need for classroom supplies. As a principal at Blum Elementary School in the Blum Independent School District (ISD) in Texas, I want to reimagine how we think about Teacher Appreciation Week. To truly show our appreciation for teachers, we must give them the tools they need to help educate all of our students, all year long.
This starts by listening to teachers about the unique needs of their students and their classrooms. I’m always working to really listen to my teachers and learn about their needs, and recently my teachers underscored the need for affordable and easy-to-use materials that meet ever-evolving educational standards. They mentioned that online hubs like Teachers Pay Teachers (TPT) were go-to resources for them because the materials were created, and vetted, by teachers. The needs of my teachers have become the starting point for sourcing curriculum, and I believe this has transformed how they prepare for the classroom.
As a small district without a curriculum director, the ability to access high-quality, teacher-made, ready-for-use materials has filled a critical gap for my administration and allowed us to better support our teachers. Teachers at Blum ISD have requested diverse materials for grades PK-12, which are now available to instructors across the campus, and this has been a boon for our educators. Based on our state-administered tests, we’ve seen marked improvement from our kids through the use of online hubs like TPT.
I believe we can do more for our teachers. This Teacher Appreciation Week, I encourage all administrators to stop for a moment and think about what teachers really need, and how we can really show them our appreciation not just this week, but every week. Teachers know what works best in their classrooms, and in my experience, truly listening to them ultimately leads to student success.