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Want to Appreciate Teachers? Stop Treating Their Students Like Dirt

A teacher offers her perspective on the hypocrisy of Teacher Appreciation week.

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These are the conditions under which we celebrate Teacher Appreciation Week, and the students are the collateral damage. 

As after-school teachers, our responsibilities are to play, dance, act, draw, and write with the kids; to make them feel safe and valued, and to enrich their academics in the process. As basic as that sounds, what we offer is an essential and much needed part of the educational process, given the realities of many poor children’s lives. Yet under Bloomberg’s proposed budget, only about half -- 220 out of 420 -- of the city’s after-school programs will have their funding renewed next year, with additional cuts to childcare programs. These cuts primarily affect working parents, leaving both school-age students and their younger siblings with nowhere to go. (The mayor did, however, announce last week that, for the first time since 2009, the city will hire new teachers -- 2,570 of them, about half as many as have been cut in that time. He also managed to criticize the teacher’s union for the latest stalls in negotiations at the same presentation.) 

Considering the onslaught of attacks on all fronts -- testing, budget cuts, increased class size, closing schools, and cuts to after-school and childcare -- it’s hard to take seriously the idea that anyone in a position of power actually cares about appreciating teachers. In my own case, as our school has come under immense pressure to improve its test scores, my after-school program’s funding has been threatened, arts enrichment has been replaced by test prep, and the children are falling asleep on the floor. And that’s just one elementary school. It’s too immense and too painful to imagine what’s happening all over New York City and all over the country, affecting the poorest communities.

If we truly want to celebrate teachers and show our appreciation for the work they do, we must stop shackling them and their students to over-testing. We must stop slashing their budgets and closing their community schools. These methods are both quantitatively ineffective and qualitatively heartbreaking. When you take your teacher friends out for drinks this week, they’ll be able to tell you that better than I ever could.


Molly Knefel is a writer, comic and co-host of Radio Dispatch, a thrice-weekly internet radio show. She also teaches drama after school.

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