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Last week, California celebrated Teacher Appreciation Week. It passed without so much as a universal email from our district office thanking us for the job that we all do. A job that has been made so much harder due to their financial misappropriations and reckless spending. Students were unaware that there was anything special about the week. Our local union distributed Target gift cards to all members- a welcome and much appreciated surprise. My individual school is planning a “Staff Appreciation Lunch” this Friday. Unfortunately, it has been planned, paid for and worked on almost exclusively by teachers- not administration. Having teachers plan and host their own “appreciation” lunch is like throwing yourself a surprise birthday party. Why bother? The idea behind Teacher appreciation Day is to show regard and gratitude for those of us in education who do so much with so little for so many.
Throughout the years and across the many districts within which I have worked, I have recognized a lack of imagination when it comes to staff recognition and appreciation. With creativity, effort and surprisingly little money, there is much that a district can do to demonstrate gratitude for a job well done. In California, with teacher salaries in rapid decline, unpaid furlough days, and reduced or non-existent benefits, districts had better get creative in the ways that they attract, maintain and reward quality staff.
Over the years I have made proposals to superintendents and school boards with a host of ideas on how they can incorporated staff appreciation into their agendas. Most of the ideas proposed required very little capitol. To date, none of the ideas have been incorporated in any of the districts. Is it because so little regard is given to staff? Or is it because historically teaching has always been considered a profession where the work is its own reward? Socialologically teaching is a selfless profession and teachers are among the most affective professionals in the work force. Typically they are motivated more by intrinsic reward than monetary gain. With this in mind, district administrators and boards of education would get more mileage from their educators with a simple but effective employee recognition program than with a double digit pay raise.
Establishing and maintaining an on-going staff appreciation program takes effort. And maybe a little imagination. But the resulting increase in staff morale and productivity is well worth the investment. Google, Genetech, Wegmans, SAS, DreamWorks, NetApp- all understand the importance of treating staff well. And although these Fortune 500 companies have huge budgets to spend on staff perks and appreciation, many of the ideas that they use to keep staff feeling valued and important don ‘t cost much at all. Following are some ideas that a school-district could easily incorporate.
Swag bags – Why should celebrities be the only ones to get bags of goodies for their talent and good looks? Freebies, solicited from local stores and businesses can be placed in gift bags (which can be made in the district art classes) and distributed to staff on Appreciation Day or as a welcome gift to new staff. It is wise to select merchants who are most likely to benefit from return teacher business- office supply stores, hardware/ home repair stores, dollar stores, tech stores. It also doesn ‘t hurt to solicit from staff- many individuals who teach also have side businesses and would be happy to offer gift certificates for services or merchandise in exchange for free advertisement for their business.
Car for Teacher of the Year – In the town of one district where I worked, the mayor was given a leased car from a local dealer for the time that he or she was in office. Although this is a lousy time to solicit free deals from local car dealers, one may be willing to donate a lease on a vehicle for the district ‘s top educator of the year. The car could sport a sign that states- “teacher of the year- District XYZ year 20–” along with the name and location of the generous dealership.
Appreciation cards designed by students – professionally printed- A request to the art departments (early in the school year) asking for student work that can be printed on a card for Staff Appreciation is a great way to recognize and utilize student talent as well as honor professional educators.
Lunches/breakfasts hosted by local Knights of Columbus or Rotary clubs – Local community organizations are often too happy to come to schools to cook breakfast or barbecue lunch for staff. They understand the value of community service and exist as community liaisons so tapping into their goodwill provides districts and schools with an excellent resource.
Parking spaces – Providing a prime parking space for a month for an honored employee is one of the easiest ways to express gratitude and reward a job well done. Cost?- the amount of paint it takes to write “Teacher of the Month” on a parking space