Some people may not know that, during the school year, there is teacher appreciation week.
The week is often marked with heartfelt cards and other tokens of affection. As a former high school teacher, I still receive these appreciations. Via Facebook, one former student recently contacted me saying, "When you told me I should go to college, and that I could succeed, I actually believed you, and it truly changed my life."
That means the world to me.
These appreciations mean a lot to teachers, who do everything from wipe noses, develop curriculum, teach kids to read, greet new immigrants, comfort traumatized teens, and impart the skills our kids need.
However, while these gestures are important, our community must do more to truly support teachers. Real teacher appreciation can transform Oakland into Teacher Town USA, where great teachers come, stay and get the best results for our students.
Real teacher appreciation means good compensation. Teacher salaries in Oakland Unified School District are dismal and lower than many surrounding cities. We need pay raises that will help us attract and retain great teachers.
Most teachers I know work almost every night and weekend. Real appreciation means a commitment by our public schools, traditional and charter, to give teachers adequate time for preparation and collaboration.
Teachers need leadership opportunities without having to leave the classroom. Teachers who want a leadership position have to either leave the classroom, or do it in addition to being a full-time teacher. That's a loss for students.
Over the past three years, we have seen exciting steps to support teachers.
We have seen a commitment to continuous improvement. OUSD is, for the first time, using a framework to define clear teaching standards. It was developed by teachers, students and parents.
Additionally, under a new, joint OUSD/union pilot program, some teachers are receiving feedback multiple times per year from more than one observer, including fellow teachers. Observers are trained to make sure feedback is evidence-based and geared toward helping all teachers improve their practice and student outcomes.
We're starting to track what works. OUSD is creating a new teaching data system as a foundation for long-term improvement.
If we are going to make a real investment in teachers, we need to know what's working. For years, OUSD has not had even basic information to gauge whether initiatives were successful. For the first time, OUSD is able to track teacher retention, and is on the verge of being able to track data such as which teacher preparation programs train our most successful teachers.
We also have committed to the common core (the newly adopted curriculum focused more on critical thinking). Teachers are leading the charge to develop curriculum and change practices to meet the demands of the new standards. Teams of teachers are deepening their focus on improving students' critical thinking skills.
Can we turn Oakland into Teacher Town USA? We can if we build on what we have already started.
The best way to do this is directly supporting your teachers; encouraging city, district and labor leaders to create programs to attract teachers; volunteering at schools; passing parcel taxes to support teachers and electing smart passionate school board members.
It will take vision, resources and hard work, but we can make true appreciation a daily reality for our teachers.
Marc Tafolla, a former teacher and civil rights attorney, is the policy director at Great Oakland Public Schools Leadership Center.