Recently, we asked the ten finalists for Georgia Teacher of the Year to share a moment when they went above and beyond to support a student. That was our exact phrasing – “above and beyond” – and we hadn’t shared the question with the teachers ahead of time.
Still, every single teacher had a story to share without so much as pausing.
They told stories of attending baseball games and school plays, of designing lessons with a specific student in mind, of simply being a caring adult in a child’s life when that, more than anything, is what they needed.
These are the stories I remember from my own days as a teacher. And I know the same stories play out in your classrooms year after year.
Because teaching is primarily about relationships. It is not primarily about data analysis, or checking the right boxes, or increasing scores.
That doesn’t mean it’s bad to leverage technology, assess learning, or use data to better serve students. I know student achievement is of the utmost importance to you, because students’ lives and futures are of the utmost importance.
But all that must take place in the context of relationships. And this Teacher Appreciation Month, what I most want you to know is that every moment you go above and beyond – all the time and heart and, sometimes, heartbreak you invest in your students’ lives – is seen and valued. That time is not “less than” because it can’t be presented at a conference or checked off on an evaluation. It is the core of our profession.
Let me be clear: this focus on relationships is not code for “doing more with less.” I know that’s what you’ve often been asked to do – perform more and more tasks with fewer resources – but as far as I’m concerned, that’s not an acceptable status quo.
Instead, my goal is to preserve your time to invest in relationships with your students. This was the goal of the policies I pursued in my first term as State School Superintendent – including reductions in the number of state-mandated standardized assessment and dialing back the weight of test scores in teacher evaluations. I promise you that I’ll continue to push for changes that allow you to forge strong relationships with your students rather than being waylaid by paperwork or redundant requirements.
Teaching is both an art and a calling. It requires both serious commitment and a passion for the work. Very often, you are called upon to make sacrifices no one will ever see.
So for all those unsung moments – the “above and beyond” moments and the priceless relationships you’ve built – I want to say thank you, from the bottom of my heart. Happy Teacher Appreciation Month!