Show teachers your appreciation by becoming a guest educator.

First Person is where features personal essays by educators, students, parents, and others thinking and writing about public education.

One day, as I entered the school building, I heard a peculiar sound: coo-coo, coo-coo.

Interestingly, it was the sound of a pigeon, but it didn’t seem to be coming from outside. Upon investigation, I witnessed our dean and a math teacher working together to corral not just one, but two pigeons flying inside the hallway. We frantically cooed and flapped our arms, mimicking predator movements, trying to guide the pigeons out for about 20 minutes. Eventually, both birds found their way back outside through an open window.

Headshot of a man with a dark beard wearing glasses. He’s wearing a heather gray sweater.
Ronak Shah (Courtesy of Ronak Shah)

But why were there pigeons inside the building? A window had been left open, and unfortunately, there was no screen to prevent such winged intruders. The open window was a result of our school’s outdated HVAC system, common to many in the district, unable to combat the increasing heat of our summers. Due to limited property tax revenue that once funded maintenance, our old school buildings now face a backlog of upkeep. While some suburban schools enjoy lavish upkeep, urban schools struggle due to rising costs and stretched budgets.

These are the intricacies that define our lives as public educators; the pigeon incident is just one of many tales I could share, each illustrating the high stakes at play.

How can we convey the realities of our daily experiences to others?

For most of us, Teacher Appreciation Week brings mixed emotions. While families, administrators, and businesses strive to show their love and support for educators, the actual challenges we face remain largely unknown. Few people truly grasp the modern teacher’s journey, leading to an overflow of discounts and gestures during this week that often feel overwhelming.

What truly resonates with me is a heartfelt acknowledgment of my impact. It’s not about seeking praise; I find fulfillment in my role as a middle school teacher, knowing I make a difference each day. However, knowing that someone outside my classroom values and understands the work we do is truly affirming.

So, this year, I urge you to take a step further: become a guest teacher in your local school.

Part of the challenge lies in the invisibility or misconceptions surrounding our educational system.

Education stands as a fundamental pillar of our democracy, funded by public dollars. Yet, teachers nationwide grapple with ill-conceived policies that hinder our work, often crafted by individuals disconnected from the classroom reality. It’s disheartening when outsiders, recalling their limited high school experiences, believe they hold the solutions to education’s woes.

The lack of transparency and understanding of our schools extends to the public, influencing election choices made by citizens who see schools through limited perspectives. Grasping the current teaching and learning landscape should be a civic duty, akin to voting or fulfilling jury obligations.

Hence, I encourage people to engage with their local schools, sharing their insights or simply observing the classroom dynamic. This could involve shadowing a teacher, serving as a guest speaker, or experiencing a full day as a substitute teacher, from start to finish. Although acquiring a substitute teaching permit is required, the process is straightforward. Moreover, exploring various schools, both public and private, provides a comprehensive view of the educational landscape.

I hope to see businesses incentivize employees to teach for a day in local schools, bridging the gap between substitute wages and employee earnings. This initiative offers a valuable experience while maintaining salary levels and requires commitment from both the employee and employer. It’s a meaningful gesture to understand and appreciate the teacher’s daily challenges.

Lastly, I advocate for a revamp of the Teacher Appreciation Grant, redirecting funds to educators in challenging school environments rather than tying them to performance ratings. Many states offer this incentive to address staffing shortages, yet Indiana lacks such a program. Teachers deserve fair and meaningful recognition for their dedication.

Wishing a fulfilling Teacher Appreciation Week to my colleagues in education. To those outside the profession, I envision you as future guest teachers, eagerly anticipating your involvement in supporting students, sharing knowledge, and learning about our schools. Happy Teacher Appreciation Week to all!

Ronak Shah, a seventh-grade science teacher in Indianapolis, serves on ’s Reader Advisory Board.

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