This week may be National Teacher Appreciation Week, but schools around the country are still struggling to find enough teachers to lead all of our nation’s classrooms. At Green Dot Public Schools, the network of public charter schools I lead, we are acutely aware of this. Filling classrooms, especially in science and math in middle and high schools, with great teachers is harder every year. That’s why it is so important that we take National Teacher Appreciation Week as an opportunity to talk about what appreciating a teacher really means. (Appreciating teachers: The 74 spends a day with an award-winning special education teacher)
We all have at least one teacher that we remember who changed our lives, or helped us at a crucial moment, or took that extra step. Mine was Mr. Tito, in 3rd grade. He made me fall in love with science and numbers! And like Mr. Tito, there is one thing we know all teachers share in common: a desire to change the world through helping kids learn, and a commitment to service. As U.S. Secretary of Education John King said in a blog post kicking off Teacher Appreciation Week, “Teachers have one of the most challenging and fulfilling jobs — literally shaping and changing lives.”
Yet, last year, a “Quality of Worklife” survey conducted by the American Federation of Teachers that polled more than 30,000 teachers found that more than 70% percent of teachers reported finding work stressful. And while 46 percent said their salaries constituted a major source of stress in the workplace, a more telling 71 percent pointed to other issues, like the adoption of new initiatives without proper training or professional development.
What we have here is a teacher appreciation crisis.
Bottom line, budget constraints are no excuse for inaction on the abundance of unmet needs teachers have beyond a bigger paycheck. In truth, creating transformational educational experiences for students actually requires the dedicated cultivation of highly effective teacher leaders. Real appreciation is coming together to address teacher needs, like professional development tools, and a real voice in instructional decisions.
At Green Dot, our success is built atop a fairly simple model. We work to ensure that those students who most need access to an excellent education are consistently taught by the best in the profession. In Green Dot schools, where students typically enter our high schools in the lowest 10% of academic proficiency, advancing a student a single grade level per year isn’t enough to ensure timely and college-ready graduation. Therefore, we define high-quality teaching as the ability to accelerate student learning well beyond that and close the achievement gap between students in low-income communities and their more affluent peers. In placing high-quality instruction at the heart of our model, we are committed to recruiting, training, and supporting the very best teachers to professional excellence.
For the past several years at Green Dot, we have been looking at the way we launch and implement new initiatives – focusing on putting teachers at the center and supporting them throughout the process. We are sharing what we’ve learned through a new information and success sharing portal on our website, launching this summer.
And while we strive to pay our teachers very competitively, we also foster excellence, growth, retention, and satisfaction through teacher mentorship and coaching, collaboration, and a model of distributed leadership and accountability. The principals and subject matter coaches at our schools develop real relationships with our teachers, giving teachers in-the-moment actionable feedback and using data to help teachers hone their craft and achieve professional goals.
Green Dot’s effort to meaningfully include teachers in our organization’s leadership structure is something we believe should be the model for how we all approach the teaching profession. Together, we can address the teacher appreciation crisis and turn teaching into the rewarding career this country’s inspiring and incredibly hardworking educators deserve.
Marco Petruzzi is the president and chief executive officer of Green Dot Public Schools National. During his eight-year tenure as CEO, he has established Green Dot as a leading agent of reform, establishing new high school and middle school transformation models, expanding Green Dot towards a national footprint and creating a world-class school and instructional leadership model, as well as an efficient central office to support the schools. Prior to joining Green Dot, he founded r3 school solutions, an organization that provided management and administrative services to charter management organizations.