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When I was a teacher at a charter elementary school in Washington, D.C., there was usually a catered lunch for Teacher Appreciation Week, during which parent volunteers would give us relief from recess duty. And I usually received a stack of handmade notes from my students, which I relished for their kind works, crayon portraits, and invented spelling of the word “appreciation.”

But I didn’t measure how much I was appreciated by the deliciousness of the lunch or the number of cards that hung on my bulletin board. I knew I was valued and respected as an educator at Elsie Whitlow Stokes Community Freedom Public Charter School because of the ways I was supported during the rest of the school year.

I felt appreciated because I had mentors. Like many first-year teachers, I was buzzing with ideas and enthusiasm. But I was also completely overwhelmed by the daily grind of lesson planning and grading, the challenges of creating a positive classroom culture, and the constant feeling that there was more I could be doing for my students. Thankfully, I had many formal and informal mentors who supported me during that very intense entry into the teaching profession, providing me with regular feedback on my instruction and classroom management, asking me to reflect on my teaching practice, and helping me to find success on even my toughest days.

I felt appreciated because I had opportunities to grow. As I became a more capable and confident educator, I gained new responsibilities and roles. I became a mentor to a newer teacher, piloted a co-teaching initiative, and served on my school’s leadership team. I had the desire and drive to become a teacher leader, and I appreciated that my principal supported those ambitions by providing me with ample opportunities for professional growth.

I felt appreciated because I didn’t have to do it alone. For many people, teaching can be an incredibly isolating profession. With the classroom door closed, it’s possible to go hours or even days without talking to another adult. I was grateful to teach in a school where my grade-level colleagues and I had many opportunities to collaborate and learn from one another. We had a common planning time, had formal opportunities to observe each other, and regularly analyzed data together to inform our teaching (and re-teaching) plans.

I knew from personal experience that these positive working conditions made me feel valued as an educator, encouraged me to stay at my school, and influenced my decision to remain in the profession. Then I went to graduate school, and I saw my experience reflected in the research. Nearly 1 in 10 teachers will leave the classroom by the end of the first year, and attrition rates are even higher in high-poverty schools. But studies show that if teachers have someone they see as a mentor, they are more likely to stay in the classroom. Research also shows that effective teacher leadership may extend the career paths for many teachers looking to have a broader impact beyond their classrooms. And teachers, especially those in high-poverty schools, are more likely to stay when there is a collaborative work environment.

As Teacher Appreciation Week comes to a close, we must turn our attention to these and other ways we can support, develop, and sustain the hardworking people who teach our children. Not just during the first full week of May, but every week of the year.

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