Superintendent’s Corner: Teachers deserve praise all year

Apr. 29, 2013 @ 03:41 PM

Teacher Appreciation Week is May 6-10 this year. As the summer approaches and year-end activities ramp up, this is a time during which we offer our teachers the congratulations and recognition that we frankly mean to offer year-round. To put it mildly, these are eventful times in public education. Sometimes, our voice in support of teachers is hard to hear in the constant activity.
New curricula, common exams, surveys and accountability measures ask a great deal of our teachers. In one sense this is completely understandable: There is no more important public responsibility than preparing the next generation to become responsible adults living, learning, working and voting in our community. We have been engaged in a national conversation about whether our schools are truly doing everything they should, for every child regardless of background. These calls for accountability, however, must be balanced with support for our teachers.
Durham Public Schools teachers recognize and embrace the cause of continuous improvement. For example, I have seen remarkable creativity and energy in our Professional Learning Communities, where teachers collaborate to improve instruction and share ideas about how best to help individual students. As a state and nation, we should be doing a better job of helping reinforcing their efforts.
For example, in our most recent budget proposal to the DPS Board of Education, we had to make a decision to use state money to either restore textbook funding or use a portion to help preserve teacher assistant positions that would otherwise be cut due to funding reductions in the governor’s budget. Teacher assistants are crucial partners to our elementary teachers. They help provide differentiated instruction and individualized attention when early literacy is vital.
Each time we face such decisions as administrators, the guiding philosophy must be, “What is best for our students?” As our teachers are the single most important school-based element in a child’s academic success, the answer is most frequently, “Whatever will best support our teachers.”
This year we are implementing in our middle and high schools North Carolina’s Measures of Student Learning: common exams that are used to determine a teacher’s effectiveness and will be time-consuming to grade. Working with teachers, parents and stakeholders, and in consultation with the Durham Association of Educators, we determined that our teachers and staff would need additional time to score these new exams. Our school board agreed to add additional early release days to this spring’s calendar. We understand it poses an inconvenience to some families, and we communicated these times well in advance to ameliorate this, but we believe this is important and necessary support for our teachers.
During the year, the demands of their profession can lend additional stress to our teachers who work honorably and diligently on behalf of Durham’s children. During Teacher Appreciation Week, let us all make a special effort to remind them of our respect and admiration. Encourage your child to make a gift. Leave a message of appreciation on our website at Thank teachers wherever you see them. And, above all, join me in recommitting to strengthening our schools and school system, so that every teacher will feel our support every day of the year.
Dr. Eric J. Becoats is superintendent of Durham Public Schools. His column appears the last Tuesday of each month.