For most folks, the beginning of fall conjures up images of bright foliage, plump apples, and pumpkin spiced everything, but for me, the season always makes me think of school. Maybe it’s because I loved being a student or because my mom is a teacher, but the crisp cool autumnal air always brings me back to the days of lockers, backpacks, and study hall (yes, I was a teacher’s pet — sue me!)
All that being said, I thought it might be important for those without teacher moms to write an article about how to support the teachers in your life as they embark on the new school year. This list is by no means exhaustive, but it does offer a few tips and tricks for showing up for your pals who are out there doing one of the most rewarding — and difficult — jobs around.
The first thing you need to do is throw out everything you think you know about teachers. While movies like Matilda, Dead Poets Society, and Freedom Writers would have us believe that educating young minds is all inspiring speeches and compassionate mentoring, the reality is a bit more complicated than that. And by a bit more complicated, I mean it involves a lot more paperwork, standardized state testing, boring days, red tape, apathetic administrators, and intense planning than us lay folk could ever imagine. So, yes, there are of course moments of fantastic connection between kiddos and their teachers, but it’s crucial to keep in mind that the actual teaching constitutes only a small part of, well, teaching.
One way to tune into this reality is to chat with the teachers in your life. I’ve found that most educators are very appreciative of a vent sesh, which allows them to process and untangle the not-so-great aspects of the job from the amazing ones. Plus, it provides you with a unique opportunity to learn more about how a school runs and who all the various stakeholders are (room moms, PTA presidents, superintendents, oh my!) It’s especially meaningful when you remember student/teacher names and follow up with your pal about them throughout the school year. (You can also offer them some wine.)
On paper, a teacher’s schedule can seem pretty enviable: out by 3 or 4 pm every day, monthly holidays, an entire summer off to travel. But that’s only what the schedule looks like on paper. The truth is that most teachers work round the clock to make sure lessons are planned, papers are graded, and parent emails are answered. It’s a schedule that goes well beyond the end-of-day school bell and often extends into the weekend. And that big ol’ summer break? Yeah, it’s usually full of training, in-service workdays, and side gigs. When you consider all these variables, the time teachers actually get off in a year is surprisingly small compared to the work they put in. In my experience, acknowledging and understanding that goes a long way in making educators feel seen.
Want to make a tangible difference in a teacher’s life? Donate items to their classrooms! Most teachers I know spend a ton of their own money on supplies, materials, books, and decorations, so chipping in a little can go a long way. An easy way to do this is to ask if they have an Amazon Wishlist set up (or encourage them to make one!) I also really like DonorsChoose, which is a fantastic site where teachers can fund-raise for projects, causes, or initiatives they’re working on. And the best part? Every cent you donate helps support growing minds!
So, you’ve kind of got a handle on how things run at your friend or family member’s school, but how much do you actually know about the education system in the United States? If your answer is, not that much, I don’t blame you — a lack of standardization across the country has produced a fractured system that can be difficult to understand. Thankfully, the internet has made it easier than ever to learn about all the different kinds of schools (parochial, private, charter, public, boarding, etc.) as well as the problems that plague them (redistricting, inequitable funding, teacher retention, to name but a few). I suggest starting small and learning about the school systems in your neck of the woods as well as what issues your local teachers unions are focusing on. The insights will be invaluable!
And most importantly, the biggest way to support the teachers in your life is to advocate for them. Come to their defense in conversations when others might be dragging their profession. Stand with them in protest when the powers that be say they’re going to cut school funding … again. Sign petitions, raise awareness, and always take a moment to openly appreciate the hard work they do.
Voilà! You’re now ready to support the you-know-what out of the teachers in your life. And if you wanna celebrate them extra hard, you could always take them on a leaf-peeping tour during their first fall break.
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