I stumbled across a post on Facebook, asking one simple question: What do teachers REALLY want for a gift this year? It immediately caught my attention and – like any proper link on Facebook – I clicked on it, expecting “it” to be some type of op-ed piece on what teachers really, truly want.
“It” turned out to be a poll question: a marketing company figuring out what teachers would potentially purchase for their classroom if they were given a certain amount of money. The link was literally asking, “Teachers, what DO you really want for your classroom this year?”
Even though I had a few ideas, I couldn’t in good faith answer the poll. That ship sailed for me about 18 months ago, when I finished up my last year as a teacher and never returned.
I remember the Christmas gifts I would receive from my students (or, to be more specific, from my students’ parents). Handmade cards, created with construction paper and markers; flowers, maybe even a gift card or two. Whatever the token was, I was desperately happy for it, because it meant that the parents took the time to show their appreciation.
I’ve actually been asked this question before: friends with children would get in contact with me, even after I had quit, asking what they should give their children’s teachers for Christmas. I’m not part of a marketing firm, nor do I have any kids (let alone kids in the school system). But the question of what one could potentially give teachers for Christmas – something they’d really, truly want – stayed with me.
If I could, this is what I’d give teachers for Christmas:
First and foremost, I would give you peace of mind for Christmas. I know that’s in incredibly short supply.
I would then give you proper resources. That’s in even shorter supply. It’s hard to produce miracles when you can’t even produce enough paper out of the supply closet.
I would also give you smaller classroom sizes. I’d find a way to get the Mitt Romneys of the world – y’know, the kind who say that championing good student-teacher ratios is just a ruse to hire more teachers – to finally see that there is a world of difference between a small classroom, where a teacher can individually help students, and a classroom filled to maximum capacity, where teaching becomes less like teaching and more like crowd control.
I would give you good administration for Christmas. That’s a serious rarity. No boss is perfect, but teaching is one of those jobs where you need the higher-ups to have your back, to fight for you, and to provide support and guidance when things get overwhelming. A classroom is stressful enough without administration constantly looking over your shoulder and criticizing your every move, throwing you under the bus whenever there is an issue with a student, or deliberately neglecting very big problems.
I would give you the freedom to create your own curriculum, one that works for you and your students – not some hyper-standardized, one-size-fits-all, No-Child-Left-Behind, Common-Core, revised-for-the-seventieth-time-just-to-be-changed-again module. You’re the one in the classroom. You know what is best for your students. Not some guy in a suit walking around a state house somewhere.
Lastly, I would give you a change in public opinion. It feels like, these days, those who aren’t busy calling teaching a part-time job are busy labeling the education system a lost cause. Nobody really wants to do anything – either because they don’t believe there is an actual problem or because they think the problem is now too big to be solved. So they look the other way when funding gets cut yet again, when good programs and good schools have to shut down because the town cannot afford them anymore. I would give you a culture that can recognize that the fate of our country rests in how well we can educate and inspire the younger generations – a culture that is no longer willing to say, “Well, what can you do?” in light of the issues facing the education world.
It’s not a bouquet of flowers or a gift card to a local restaurant, nor is it a parceled out budget you can use towards your classroom. It’s not even something that could actually come to fruition just because one former teacher wrote it out in an essay.
So what do teachers really want for Christmas? Maybe I’m completely ill-equipped to answer that now. Truth be told, if I were asked towards the end of my time as a teacher what I really wanted for Christmas, I’d answer with a highly negative, “A new job.” I stopped wanting smaller classes, better resources, a more supportive network, and started wanting the courage to put in my letter of resignation.
Outside of a few pipe dreams and hopeful wishes, the only thing I can really give you this Christmas is my understanding.
It’s not easy, what you guys do, and people are quitting the field at an alarming rate (I should know). This Christmas, I can only give the reminder that, whether you stay in the field or end up leaving, there are countless people out there who sympathize. People who are, were, or never will be in the field; people who can step back and go, “You have been given an impossible situation and you have my undying respect.” I might never step foot in another classroom that way ever again, but I still care deeply for everyone involved – especially the teachers and students who have been wronged by an incredibly misguided, shortsighted, and deeply flawed system.
For Christmas, I can gift wrap you a reminder that there are people out there saying, “I get it” – myself included.
In a way, this sentiment is essentially my version of the construction paper card. Slightly meaningless, no intrinsic or marketable value, but my feeble way of showing my appreciation for every little thing you do. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays.