Thursday, August 14, 2014

Why Being a PEAK Teacher Mattered to Me

Over the past four or five years, I've been feeling beat up as a teacher. If I watch almost any news station, I find teachers blasted for not teaching enough, well enough, being unprofessional, lazy, and uncaring. Not just particular "bad" teachers, but teachers. Read the comments on any news story about a teacher; whether or not the story is positive or negative, the comments will be filled with angry people explaining why teachers are worthless.

It shouldn't hurt me. But, like the trolling it is, it does hurt.

I put in crazy hours to be a decent teacher (want to know how many? One year I counted). I don't know any teacher who doesn't. We teach our normal hours, then we grade and plan and create materials as a minimum requirement when teaching. Many of us also attend training, participate in local, state, and national leadership, and take on additional tasks and hours when asked.

This is where PEAK comes in. In my district for several years there has been an award called the PEAK (Professionalism/Experience/Achievement/Knowledge) award; it was created to recognize all the teachers who put in extra hours and time to make education better for their students and their colleagues. Teacher of the Year awards are wonderful, but they can only recognize one teacher each year. The PEAK award recognizes everyone who has put in significant time outside of planning and grading and teaching. It rewards activity within professional organizations and time put into professional development and seeking additional knowledge.

When our district language coordinator resigned a couple of years ago, I worried that we'd lose this award. I didn't want to lose the only recognition we currently get for the extra time and extra energy and extra self that we put into our profession.

So, after giving him about half a month to settle in, I started pestering our new language coordinator almost as soon as the new school year began. I like him a lot; he always communicates openly and works hard to make sure language in our district is protected and promoted. And he not only put up with my pestering, he welcomed me to explain the award and to meet with him to help him update and perfect it.

And why did this matter so much? One of my colleagues asked me this. After all, the award was just for anyone who put in the time to earn it.

That's exactly why it mattered. Everyone who spent hours attending workshops to be better teachers; everyone who is continuing his or her education, everyone who blogs, leads presentations, mentors other teachers, publishes in journals, takes students to events on the weekends, all of those who give innumerable hours outside of their allotted duties simply to make teaching better for everyone concerned--all of those people get this award. It mattered to me that this award exists. I think it should exist everywhere.

I think everyone should ask for this kind of recognition, and be proud of it.