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How to Show Up for Teachers

This July 9, First Lady Cox will host the third annual Show Up for Teachers conference. This one-day event offers support, material gifts, and expressions of appreciation to Utah's educators. It's a lovely day, and it's a step in the right direction towards getting educators the ongoing recognition and support they deserve.


The good news is that you don't need to be a First Lady to act now to support educators in your community. No matter who you are or what your life looks like, you can contribute meaningfully to making teaching a sane, sustainable career option for the kinds of ambitious, motivated, caring people we want caring for our kids.


Do y'all remember the 'Stop Complaining About Back to School Shopping' video ( that went viral a few years back? That's the kind of energy our teachers need. Here are some ways we can offer that support beyond buying the right binders.


If You Have School-Age Kids:


1. Collaborate

For our purposes, we can understand "collaborating" as creating a shared vision, a shared goal. 


When educators are setting goals for their own practices and classrooms, they keep 2 sweeping sets of standards in mind: the content they teach and the way they teach it. Teachers are hyper-aware of these sprawling standards because of their potential impacts; NOT supporting students to learn content through best practices can impact a child's readiness to move on to the next grade. In addition to caring deeply about their students' future academic success, educators are themselves evaluated, in large part, based on their students' outcomes.


Who cares? You probably do, when you're up later than you want to be with a frustrated kid and a homework assignment you want to help with, but that you don't understand yourself.

If you're open to collaborating, does that mean you must bite your tongue and plow through? Of course not! You just want to acknowledge the pressures your child's teacher is under as you attempt to find a workable solution with that teacher.


For example, instead of writing an email like "It seems like you're just assigning homework because you can't figure out how to do your job in the time you have with my kid," you might try something more like "I'm so grateful you are dedicated to my kid's academic growth. I'm concerned that the current approach leads to more preventive frustration than productive struggle. Can we explore some options to make homework better aligned with the outcomes you're hoping for?"


2. Cooperate

If collaborating is getting on the same page about what we're doing, cooperating is being on the same page about how we do it. The lowest-hanging fruit regarding cooperation is in how you communicate with your kids' teacher/s.


Teachers don't get many choices for things like the email platforms or Learning Management Systems (LMS) they use, and some districts have deadlines for administrative responsibilities like timelines for uploading grades to those LMSs. Most educators do their best to use these systems in ways that give you as much information about your child's progress as possible.


While it may seem like you're being collaborative by writing a teacher a "How's my kid doing?" email, the truth is, if you have the power to answer that question for yourself but it's just easier for you to send an email than to reset your password, log in, and look for yourself, you're not actually cooperating.


Just as teachers have many standards they keep in mind, so, too, do they have many students. Each student is special. Each student deserves to be individually seen and known. Your child's teacher is more available to give that kind of attention to individual students if they aren't burdened with redundant asks for information that they are already attempting to communicate with you.


So, even if it's less convenient for you, consider communicating with your child's teacher/s on their terms. Check grades and progress reports regularly. Read newsletters. Attend back-to-school nights and family-teacher-student conferences. You taking on these burdens reduces a teachers' burden significantly.


3. Appreciate

Let your kids' teacher/s know what you appreciate about them (here's a classic example). Even if you have to work really hard to find something authentic. Know that they're doing the same for your kids, and everyone deserves acknowledgment. Appreciation happens to go super-far with teachers, as it tends to be deeply motivating for this population of helping professionals.


If You Don't Have School-Age Kids (or also if you do, but we know you're tired):


1. Speak Up in Alignment With Your Values

Public school classrooms have always been spaces where culture wars bubble up, but we're currently at a boiling point; granted, the "war" idea applies for some more than others. In a review of 1000 books recently banned from school libraries, only 11 individual people were responsible for reporting more than 60% of those books banned.


If you agree with those 11 people, you're all set. No need to take any further action - they have got you covered.


If, however, you have any thoughts of frustration or disagreement about the types of books being banned or the frequency at which books are being removed from school bookshelves, it's essential that your local school boards and school districts hear from you. Regularly.

As public institutions, school boards and districts are required to consider and reflect public input. As a taxpayer, even if you don't have a kid currently in school, you have a right to participate. Based on how fervently those 11 people want to over-participate, annoyingly, now you actually have a responsibility.


This issue isn't limited to books. It's valuable for school boards and districts to hear from you about what you want schools to be for, how you want them to work, and what you hope kids get out of the experience. If you aren't communicating this regularly, the only people they are hearing from are those who are literally crusading for a very specific vision.

Here are a few excellent books to support how you can think about and act for excellent education and well-supported teachers:

image of cover of Dream Orders by Richard Reeves

2. Your Community, Your School Board

Schools are the crucibles in which our communities are forged. And running them requires lots of boring meetings.


This set-up favors people with extreme views, as they tend to be the ones more committed to doing things like running for and serving on school boards. If school board participation is an all-or-nothing proposition, they give all.


The good news is; there is room for incrementalism in your participation with school board structure. Consider taking just 30 minutes once per quarter to check in with your local school board. Review some meeting minutes. Study up on candidates. Then imagine if everyone in your neighborhood did the same.


If you're open to this, you may learn something that moves you to support a candidate, or even run for a position yourself! No pressure, but also, never say 'never.'


3. Advocate

Advocate to pay teachers more. As often as you can. To whomever will listen. And even to those who might not listen the first-through-thousandth time. Let's treat - and compensate - teachers like the professionals we expect them to be.

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