The Importance of Diversity in Education: Honoring Black Teachers During Teacher Appreciation Week

May 8, 2023 | Educators

The month of May is a turning point for many teachers. It marks the beginning of feeling the end-of-year madness as they try to plan for next year. On top of that, the pandemic has now stacked up the levels of stress, there’s a growing movement of banning books, there’s a shortage of teachers across the nation, and seventy-one percent of teachers report that their students are academically behind today compared to pre-pandemic. Educators are feeling overwhelmed and burnout, to say the least. 

This Teacher Appreciation Week, we aim to provide resources and insight that not only recognizes and celebrates teachers but provides resources and insights on how to stand in solidarity with them, recognizing that systemic change is necessary now.

What is Teacher Appreciation Week?

Teacher Appreciation Week is an annual event that always takes place the first full week of May. In 1953, Eleanor Roosevelt convinced Congress that we needed a dedicated period to thank teachers for their hard work but it wasn’t until 1980 that it became an official national holiday. 

Thank a Black Teacher Day is on May 8 

The first day of Teacher Appreciation Day kicks off Thank a Black Teacher. Established by the National Black Teacher Pipeline Coalition, their goal is to achieve racial and educational justice. This year they’ll be hosting an event to honor black teachers at the US Department of Education. 

Most Black students in this country attend 13 years of public school without ever having a single Black teacher yet research shows when Black students have Black teachers to mirror, they perform better in school. 

Taking the time to recognize and appreciate the contributions of Black teachers is the start to creating a more inclusive educational environment and recognizing the need for undoing systemic racial and educational injustices.

The Importance of Black Teachers

Research shows that increased diversity within schools yields better outcomes for all students.  

Students of color, in particular, do better academically, experience fewer disciplinary incidents, and form stronger and more trusting bonds with teachers who look like them. 

Unfortunately, there is a teacher of color retention crisis. According to a 2022 national survey, 62% of Black teachers and 59% of Latine teachers said they planned to leave education sooner than expected.

Furthermore, Black teachers report taking on responsibilities due to their race such as disciplining students of color or teaching their colleagues and community about racism. These added burdens are often shouldered by Black teachers more than their non-Black colleagues adding to the burnout teachers are already facing. 

Black educators serve as an important reflection to every student, showing them that they are capable of excelling despite the historical biases and systemic inequalities that exist in our society. They are inspiration, illuminating the path towards an equitable and just future for all students. 

Practice

Consider the importance of Black teachers from your perspective and take a moment to reflect and write down your thoughts.

Practical Ways to Celebrate and Thank Black Teachers on May 8th

First, it’s important to show genuine gratitude and support for Black teachers in ways that are meaningful and authentic and go beyond performative gestures. However, it’s even more important to continue showing support and appreciation beyond just one day or week.

Here are a few practical examples:

  • Write a personalized thank you note or card expressing your appreciation for their contributions to your education or the education of others.
  • Make a donation to an organization that supports Black educators (it could be Healing Schools Project!)
  • If you are an administrator or school leader, how can you center the Black educator experience without asking educators of color to be your diversity champions. This could be a great time to consider anti-racist coaching to create a more inclusive environment where educators feel supported and respected regardless of race or other identity characteristics. 
  • This list wouldn’t be complete without mentioning cash or gift cards. Although small tokens of appreciation can help boost morale, they do not address the underlying issues that teachers face, such as being underpaid. 

Advocate for Policy Changes and Standing in Solidarity with Teachers 

Standing in solidarity with teachers means supporting and advocating for their needs, concerns, and well-being which in turn benefits students and the education system as a whole.

We encourage you to find a sustainable way to advocate for policies that support teachers, ask educators what they need to feel valued and supported in their roles, and continue to appreciate the teachers beyond Teacher Appreciation Week. 

As a starting point for policy change, consider supporting the Pay Teachers Act (S766) and American Teacher Act (HR882) which would ensure public school teachers earn at least $60,000/year. 

Keep Going 

Especially in the last year and a half, teachers are facing some tough challenges. Teacher Appreciation Week is a time to invite joy and celebrate the amazing work that educators do every day! 

We hope this is a reminder to shower them with gratitude for their dedication to our students and our future. And of course, it should continue beyond this week and further than appreciation alone. Allocating time, space and resources that allow teachers to settle their bodies, rest, dream, and experience joy is a necessity for teachers to thrive in their profession. 

 So let’s make this week a true celebration of teachers, and commit to their healing and stand in solidarity with them every day!