“Respect teachers.” That should be a given, considering how critical teachers’ jobs are to kids’ future success. Yet many teachers don't feel that respect for the profession has increased in the last year, after feeling an initial surge of appreciation at the start of the pandemic, according to HMH's latest Educator Confidence Report.
The pandemic shed light on just how challenging teaching can be. Teachers were hailed as heroes alongside doctors, nurses, and other frontline workers. TV producer Shonda Rhimes tweeted on March 16, 2020: “Been homeschooling a 6-year-old and an 8-year-old for one hour and 11 minutes. Teachers deserve to make a billion dollars a year. Or a week.” Parents everywhere seconded that opinion. (Want to show appreciation for teachers? Take a cue from these principals.)
Yet, when asked in May 2021 about potential positive impacts of the pandemic, only 37% of educators cited increased respect for the profession, down from 63% the previous year.
We asked Rae Hughart, CXO of Teach Better and a former middle-school math teacher, for her take on the issue and what teachers can do to boost respect for the profession.
“The ebb and flow of teacher respect over the years has a lot to do with awareness,” says Hughart. “You can’t respect what you don’t understand.”
When the pandemic hit, Hughart says, families experienced firsthand the hurdles teachers face in the classroom, and respect for them grew. But as workers returned to offices, people wondered why more teachers didn’t follow suit. Hughart attributes that to a lack of awareness. “People don’t know that many schools lack the space and resources that the business world takes for granted.”
Hughart admits that before she became a teacher, she underestimated the profession. As she writes in the book she co-authored with Adam Welcome, Teachers Deserve It:
“When I originally began teaching, I had very little understanding of what I was getting into. I had no idea what a teacher deserved because what teachers deserved was rarely discussed. In my mind, teachers had it easy. Come on . . . they don’t even work over the summer, right?”
After six months on the job, Hughart’s eyes were opened. Between writing personalized lessons, she was counseling students who had been taken from their homes—all while trying to survive on a “nearly unlivable wage.”
One of the reasons Hughart wrote Teachers Deserve It was to suggest ways teachers can change the narrative and get the respect they deserve.
Small Ways to Build Big Respect for Teachers
"I don't believe that the general public knows 5 percent of what happens in the classroom," says Hughart. Administrators and teachers can play a small role in changing that statistic. Here are some of Hughart's ideas for how educators can spread awareness of the good work they do every day. We know teachers and admins have so much on their plates but even incorporating just one of Hughart's ideas can make a difference!
1. Send a Celebratory Email
What was the highlight of the week in your class? Send an email to let families know about it! Hughart shares this example: “In our classroom this week, we focused on order of operations and explored exponents. Students explored how YouTube videos getting shared actually relates to exponents. We had a really great discussion. Shout out to our students for making great connections!” Hughart says this email gives caregivers an interesting subject to talk about with their child. They’ll also think, ‘Holy cow, this teacher really went above and beyond a worksheet.’
2. Create a Social-Media Profile
Administrators and teachers alike can spread the word on social media about the great things going on in classrooms. Social media posts can be a quick way of providing non-educators with a window into what really happens inside schools, while at the same time helping out fellow educators who could use a little inspiration. Start by following educators on the social media platform of your choice. These educator influencers offered remote-teaching tips on Shaped. Then give it a try yourself! Showcase your work and classroom with photos on Instagram and Pinterest, or share your views on K–12 trends and debates on Twitter. Here are more getting-started tips.
3. Blog About Teaching
First, read education blogs. (Of course, we’d love you to start with the 11 most-read Shaped blogs of 2020.) Then ask yourself: In what area of education am I an expert? Maybe it’s teaching English learners or students with special needs. Maybe it’s the perfect strategy for teaching students how to understand perimeter, area, and volume. Or maybe you have strong opinions about professional development, teacher pay, or how to incorporate SEL into the curriculum. Start writing and sending your ideas to education blog editors for possible publication. Administrators could even start a school blog that spotlights teacher writing.
4. Hang Your Degree in the Classroom
Does anyone outside of the profession know how educated teachers are? Many teachers have an undergraduate degree and a master's degree. Some have earned doctoral degrees. All teachers rack up countless hours of PD. In Illinois, where Hughart works, educators are required to get 180 PD hours every three years. Teachers are accomplished, and yet they don’t tell anyone about it, Hughart says. So, make sure that degree, PD certificate, or Google educator award is prominently displayed at the next parent-teacher conference.
It’s been a tough year and a half for educators. According to the Educator Confidence Report, only 26% of teachers said they had no interest in leaving the profession. Hughart maintains that a little respect towards teachers could go a long way. “If respect was higher, the work wouldn’t change, but educators would have more drive to continue to be problem solvers,” she says. “With respect comes grace, and when people feel under-respected and under-appreciated, the stamina they need to push through hard times starts to diminish.”
But all hope isn’t lost. “If every educator took on a little bit more ownership and made sure someone saw the incredible things going on in their classroom,” Hughart says, “it definitely would move the profession forward.”
Want to learn more about teachers' views of the profession and the future of education? Download the full Educator Confidence Report.
Education Research Director, Core Literacy & Early Learning
Dr. Vytas Laitusis
Education Research Director, Supplemental & Intervention Math