Appreciating Teachers with Words and Actions

  • Appreciating Teachers with Words and Actions 

    May 2022

    Thank you to each and every teacher of mathematics! As we close out the month observing Teacher Appreciation Week, and many are closing out the school year as well, I wanted to take this opportunity to thank you for your passion for your students and mathematics. You continue to inspire me, your students, their families, and your colleagues—even in the face of continued challenging times.

    When I began as president two years ago during Teacher Appreciation Week #MyMathHero, I shared, “You are all my heroes. I celebrate and honor all of you, not just this week, but every day.” This is an even stronger truth today because I have had the opportunity in these past two years to meet so many teachers either virtually or in person and hear their stories about their mathematics teaching journey. It has been inspirational. I have learned so much from each of you about mathematics, teaching, learning, collegiality, relationships, resilience, community, challenges, concerns, dreams, and successes. You continue to think deeply about the future of mathematics education and what it means for our students and society. This is evident in your recent responses to an NCTM survey in which you have shared what you see as the most critical challenges you are facing. The survey is still open, so be sure to have your voice heard!

    Recently, the 2022 NCTM Regional Conference in Indianapolis had a large chalkboard in the exhibit area where teachers responded to Why I Teach. It was amazing! There was such passion and care for students and their learning. If you have not seen the video in which teachers share why they teach mathematics, be sure to check it out now. They talk about believing in students as mathematicians, their delight in seeing them make their own mathematical discoveries, and supporting them in building their positive mathematical identity. I imagine it will resonate with you and your reasons for teaching.

    Get the Facts Out, a project designed to address the teacher shortage in STEM through celebrating the positives of teaching, also interviewed teachers in Indy about why they love teaching. I was particularly struck by the responses of two future elementary teachers who were volunteering at the conference. They talked about how they loved seeing students learn and grow and get excited about the mathematics even when they find it challenging. That sounds like Catalyzing Change—broadening the purposes of mathematics to include experiencing the wonder, joy, and beauty of mathematics!

    Just like these preservice teachers who are the future of the teaching profession, we need to share how passionate we are about teaching mathematics and why it matters. Sure, it is difficult at times, and it certainly keeps us busy; but it is one of the most (if not the most) rewarding and powerful professions. Teachers, you have the most impact on students learning mathematics; and you have the greatest influence on those who will be leading our society in the future, making decisions by problem solving, and understanding and critiquing our world. What a responsibility! But what an amazing opportunity! Join me in sharing what an incredible profession we have in teaching mathematics. Let’s share this message to invite others who are committed to students and to the importance of mathematics to become a part of the teaching profession. Then let’s continue to support them and celebrate them in this work.

    Although taking time to celebrate teachers each year is important, we shouldn’t show our appreciation for teachers for just one week or one month. We should do it every day. And it must go beyond words. Do not misunderstand: We certainly should and must tell teachers of mathematics that we are grateful for them and all that they do, that we applaud them for their dedication to student learning, creativity, thoughtful planning in designing learning experiences, and constant care for our PK–12 students. But we must ensure that our actions follow up those words of gratitude. As parents/caregivers, students, policymakers, and administrators, do we work collaboratively with teachers to support mathematics learning? Do we value their professional voice and expertise in teaching mathematics? Do we advocate for them to have collaborative and individual planning time as part of their school day; opportunities for professional growth and development; a voice in policymaking related to areas such as curriculum, assessment, instructional strategies, and effective resources; and a safe, positive working environment?

    So, bring on the words of gratitude, thoughtful notes of appreciation, cookies, candles, gift cards, candy, and flowers and plants. As teachers we love those, too! But we also need and want to be valued in our profession all year long with actions that support those words of encouragement and gratitude.

    This message was written before the horrific shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. I wrote it as a closing to a month that we dedicate to showing teachers our appreciation for all that they do for our students... our children. My heart continues to break over the lives lost, those tragically impacted by the losses, and for all teachers, students, families, and communities. As I asked in this message, how do we advocate for a safe, positive working environment? This includes a place where we can share our grief, our concerns, and our care for each other. It’s a place where teachers, students, and staff can safely go to school to focus on teaching and learning and caring for one another, and where families and communities can be confident that their children are in a safe, positive learning environment.

    Trena Wilkerson
    NCTM President