5 Important Ways to Support Educators on National Teacher Appreciation Day

From offering mental health support to donating to their classroom.

May 4th is National Teacher Appreciation Day.

Education has taken a big hit over the past year. The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic caused schools to shut down across the world and, as of April 2020, the World Economic Forum reported that 1.2 billion students were out of the classroom globally. This means that teachers everywhere had to quickly transition to teaching virtually with little to no training on how to do so, and most (57%, according to a ClassTag survey), say they were “not prepared to facilitate remote learning.” The pandemic has also greatly slowed the pace of learning, with only about one in five teachers saying that they were on the same schedule as years past, according to a RAND survey conducted in November. Even as some schools have resumed in-person classes, and others are making plans to do so in the fall, the pandemic will have long-lasting effects on education—and teachers will bear the brunt of getting things back on track.

So, the need for teacher support is as crucial as ever, but it also isn’t new. According to a 2017 study on teachers’ emotions, which surveyed over 5,000 educators, the top five emotions reported were: frustrated, overwhelmed, stressed, tired, and happy. The primary source of teachers’ frustration and stress, the study found, “pertained to not feeling supported by their administration around challenges related to meeting all of their students’ learning needs, high-stakes testing, an ever-changing curriculum, and work-life balance.”

While larger scale change is needed to give more institutional support to teachers, there are also things you can do right now to support educators—whether you have children in school, have friends who teach, or just want to make education better for everyone. So in honor of National Teacher Appreciation Day today, we’ve rounded up important ways to support educators. Keep reading to see what you can do to show your support.

How to support teachers:

1. Support teachers’ overall well-being.

For most everyone working from home during the pandemic, establishing a healthy work-life balance has proven to be incredibly difficult. This is especially true for teachers, many of whom would take their work home with them even pre-pandemic. A 2018 study on teacher burnout found that 85% of teachers reported that work-life imbalance was affecting their ability to teach, and other research has shown that at least 30% of teachers in the U.S. leave the profession within their first five years of teaching.

So, it’s important to acknowledge teachers’ individual mental health needs, which often get deprioritized in place of the needs of their students. Supporting those needs starts by being conscious about the way we interact and communicate with teachers and doing so with patience and gratitude. Joel Cisneros, the director of the Los Angeles Unified School District’s School Mental Health, told the Los Angeles Times in March that “making [teachers] feel appreciated and acknowledged can go a long way” in supporting their ability to do their job.

Research from the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence shows that teachers who work with administrators who are more supportive of their emotional needs tend to “experience fewer negative emotions and more positive emotions” at school. These teachers are also likely to have better quality relationships with their students, which, in turn, leads to students being more engaged and committed to learning.

If you’re close to a teacher in your life, you can also recommend mental health resources. For example, Headspace, a wellness and meditation app, is currently offering free access to all K-12 teachers, school administrators, and supporting staff. On Teach.com, you can also find a long list of 50 mental health resources for teachers and school staff.

Also crucial to the overall well-being of teachers is the feeling of support from their school’s administration. So, if you work in school administration, you can support teachers by ensuring that mental health needs are taken into consideration and integrated into the workflow, especially when making plans for re-opening in-person education. One way to do so, per the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, is to build an “Emotional Intelligence Charter,” which offers a plan for checking in on the well-being of teachers and staff. Find out more about this charter and how it works here.

2. Fundraise and donate for teachers’ classrooms.

According to a 2018 Department of Education survey, around 94% of public school teachers report spending their own money on supplies for their classrooms. These expenses put added financial strain on teachers who, as is common knowledge, are already grossly underpaid in America. According to data from the Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics, the average salary for a public school teacher nationwide was $61,730 during the 2018-2019 academic year. On average, teachers also make about 20% less than other college-educated workers with similar experience, according to the Economic Policy Institute. So, one way to ease teachers’ financial strain is to help fund some of their classroom costs.

To raise funds for teachers, you can head to sites like AdoptAClassroom.org and DonorsChoose to donate directly to classrooms across the U.S. Or, you can talk to teachers at schools in your area to organize a local supply drive for things they need or set up a GoFundMe page specifically for their classrooms.

3. Demand higher salaries for teachers.

The argument for higher pay for teachers is an easy one. Research has shown a direct correlation between the increase in teacher salary to improved student performance. The same can be said for the impact of an overall increase in education funding. One 2015 study found that a 10% increase in per pupil spending each year for all 12 years of public school led to more completed years of education, about 7% higher wages, and a reduced rate of adult poverty.

So, demanding higher pay for teachers and increased education budget pays off for everyone. But how exactly do we do that? As explained by EdChoice, K-12 funding is complicated and it comes from a variety of sources—federal, state, and local—and the way the budget and formula are structured depends on the state. So, it’s not so easy to pinpoint just one person or group that is responsible for deciding budgets and salaries. However, you can support the push for higher teacher pay by researching your local legislation and contacting officials involved in the decision process.

Showing your support for higher pay for educators also involves voting for the right people. When voting in both local and national elections, look for candidates with platforms that value teachers and prioritize education without cutting funding.

Recent teacher activism has also proved effective, with states that were home to walkouts and strikes, like Oklahoma and West Virginia, seeing estimated 13% and 4.5% increases in pay, respectively. So, be sure to pay attention to local protests and movements around you and show up to support the educators and staff fighting for better compensation.

4. Get involved in your children’s education.

If you have children in school, you probably already have lots on your plate. However, when you dedicate time to get involved in your children’s education, it pays off for both your kids and your teachers. In fact, per a 2012 Scholastic study, 84% of teachers listed family involvement and support as the primary effort that would have an impact on improving academic achievement, and 98% listed this support as a top factor in retaining good teachers.

So, if you have children in school, make sure to dedicate some time each week to check in with your kids and see what you can do to help them succeed in their learning.

5. Ask teachers what they need.

Teachers will know best what forms of support they need to do their jobs. So, if you have teachers in your life, reach out and ask them directly what you can do to make their job easier. Then, use your individual resources to help fill those needs.

If you have free time on your hands, maybe you can spend some time volunteering at the school or school-related events. If you have extra funds to spare, you can donate through the options above or purchase classroom supplies the teacher needs. Since education is such a big undertaking, there are endless ways to help, and reaching out to teachers is a great way to show you care and figure out what you can do to support them.