22 comments on “Teachers need medals too!

  1. Hello!

    Recently, I visited one of my teacher heroines, my older sister. I remember her tackling teaching gang members in her first years of teaching. Her approach to teaching and passion really influenced me to become a teacher. When I went to visit her, I noticed a change. She has been teaching for 15 years and has always met every challenge with a grin. She is often praised and rewarded for her great strides with at risk students, ELLs, and those with low reading scores. This time was different. She talked about retiring and being sick with the job. I helped her with her grading and the students were obviously not getting the subject matter. However, I do not think it was the students, but the system. She seemed worn out.

    Therefore, I think you are right that the school administration and academic managers really need to figure out how to keep great teachers like her on board and passionate about their jobs. I know she has given so much and the parents and students love her, but obviously the administration has failed to make her feel appreciated.

    I think academic managers can begin by listening to teachers and giving them what they want. Sometimes, academic managers don’t realize they have to let the teachers win some battles. For example, if the teachers cannot get raises then why not let them have a choice about their training topics? These are battles that occur daily in the school and I have had some administrators want to control everything and not receive any input from teachers. Also, I think most academic managers need to make it a point to compliment teachers daily. It’s unexpected and such a simple gesture that would go a long way. That way when the administrators give criticism, it will be taken as constructive and not as an attack or lack of appreciation.

    • “Sometimes, academic managers don’t realize they have to let the teachers win some battles.” – I think that’s absolutely brilliant – and it certainly backs up my own feelings that ensuring teacher satisfaction IS a major part of good academic management.

      • Very important topic, especially as it’s one that doesn’t get the attention it deserves.

        I also agree wholeheartedly with this quote. Our profession (rightly) talks a lot about learner centred classrooms, empowering learners, sharing responsibility with learners, developing learner autonomy etc. but it’s not very often that these issues are translated into the staffroom. How many people have ever heard the phrase ‘teacher centred staffroom’?

        Teachers may not have much say over their salaries, but they will feel a lot more valued if they have some influence over important issues that affect them.

        Looking back on my own education, I wish I’d spent more time thanking the teachers that really made a difference to me. Only now as a teacher can I fully realise how important a few simple words can be.

        I’d also like to share a few quotes I found on the internet.

        Teacher appreciation makes the world of education go around. ~ Helen Peters

        Silent gratitude isn’t much use to anyone. ~ G.B. Stern

        Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it. ~ William Arthur Ward

        No duty is more urgent than that of returning thanks. ~ James Allen

        No one who achieves success does so without acknowledging the help of others. The wise and confident acknowledge this help with gratitude. ~ Author Unknown

        Teaching is not a lost art, but the regard for it is a lost tradition. ~ Jacques Barzun

      • Hi Xiaobing,

        I love your mixed conditional sentence! And that academic manager sounds exactly the right kind of person…giving the staff a good feeling really matters, I think.

  2. Jeremy,

    Wonderful thoughts and thanks for getting my own juices flowing re. this delicious topic! It would make an excellent reflective activity for teachers (I’ll try it over a winter session I’m holding): Make a list of things that make you feel good as a teacher.

    I know for sure, money will be high on the list. I’m pretty radical and don’t rate it high but the majority of teachers I work with sure do chirp up on pay day!

    I really think we should make these thoughts visible and find visible means by which to proactively reward teachers. It could be as small as a weekly meeting with teachers sharing what made them feel good during the week. Or maybe even giving a medal for teachers to wear, based on their peers recommendation (I did this with kids – each day in my grade 4, a student got to wear a medal around class (one of my own)).

    Myself – what makes me feel good is the recognition of peers for the work I do to make my class an open and not a shut case.


  3. Jamie (who is in China and so can’t access the blog) sent me this account from ‘the other side’:

    “Hi Jeremy
    This “teacher medal” thing was interesting. It reminded me of what I did to my DELTA course tutors at IATEFL Cardiff 2009 this year.
    Before I went to the UK, I saw a familiar name on the programme. She would give a presentation on teacher training. I was really thrilled to see her name because she was my tutor in the UK and I haven’t seen her for about 5 years since I returned to China. I decided to give her a nice surprise by showing up at her session without telling her in advance. I bought a nice gift before hand. On the day, I rushed to the room and sat in the first row. To my big surprise, I saw two of them! Both were my tutors in the DELTA course! How come the other’s name was not on the list on the programme?

    I searched my bag for another gift. Luckily I had another nice one with me,but unwrapped!
    Just when they finished the session, I jumped onto the stage. They were really shocked to see me there. I was actually really nervous to make an announcement, but I determined to tell every body in the room that I would like to thank my tutors for helping me through my course and I bowed to them in front of every body!

    There was a big applause from the audience. I was shaking because of the excitement!
    The next day, a lady stopped me on the way and said that she was really touched by what I had done to my tutors. That made her think that her job is worth doing!
    I think teachers also need to be praised by their students/trainees. A pat on the shoulder can always make the job bearable and memorable! A jar full of praises (on slips of paper) might be a good gift/reward for teachers during the working days!
    By the way, China has Teacher’s Day (September 10th each year) to show respect for teachers.”

    What about that?!!

  4. Ah, one of my favourite topics!

    I quite agree with both you and Shelly regarding the need for managers, DOSs, etc to ensure that teachers are praised and given positive feedback and encouragement whenever the opportunity arises.

    Whenever I’m working with managers or others in a supervisory position and we talk about feedback I always ask the question “How many of you feel you get too much praise from your boss?” (and/or “Have ever felt that way?”). Thus far I must have asked close to a thousand people that question, and I’ve never yet had anyone say that they do (I think two people in that time have said they get enough)*.

    We all need to be recognised for our good work, for many reasons (not just feeling good about ourselves). And I agree it is contingent on managers (and peers) to ensure that people get praise and recognition whenever an opportunity arises (ie when it is merited – but EVERY time it is merited, we shouldn’t assume that people take our praise as a given. People don’t, and they need to hear it. Just think of language students – if they do something well, you praise them – so they know that (a) they’ve done well; (b) they’re on the right track and you are pleased with their development . Teachers or any other staff members are not any different)

    [*There’s an interesting cultural coda to this question. After I have asked it, I can usually guarantee that somebody puts there hand up with a “But…”. This person is always, but always, British. If there are no British people in the room, then nobody Buts in. The “But…” is that “If you give too much praise then people start to see it all as meaningless”. Which of course would be true if it ever happened, but still nobody has ever told me that they’ve been in that situation. We can worry about that overpraising bridge when we come to it. I suspect it will be a while before we reach it though]

    • Hi Andy,

      thanks for that experience (the 1000 teachers!). It does just show that this is an important issue I think.

      As for the Buts – well us British are uncomfortable, usually, with people complimenting us…is that true? But the issue of ‘false praise’ is something different, perhaps. Students don’t see to appreciate praise when it is unmerited, and they are probably right!

  5. Teachers do meed medals. I love the quotes given by Peter Fenton. They really make sense and are true. I also like the idea of letting teachers choose the training topics. As a teacher who tries to integrate technology, I don’t get much help from others and they would love to see some of the ideas I have but there is no time for it outside of our own. I believe that I need to start recognizing my peers when I can and then it might, just might, begin to spread to other teachers.

  6. Hi Jeremy,

    I love this topic!

    I remeber your presentation in Cardiff about giving students medals backed up with the theory of multi-intelligence. I guess the same thing for teachers!

    Every teacher has received warm and lovely feedback from their students, the difference lies in the frenqency and quantity. Personally, I think the recognition from the colleague and the academic managers is as important, if not more.

    When i taught English in a key senior high in China, the system there was to relate your salary to the feedback from the students you taught and from the colleagues you worked with. I don’t want to go into the maths but it much more than a money matter, but rather about professional competence and the recognition. although all the feedback was anonymous, both the academic staff and teachers could check the feedback from students if wanted. We could get some really horrible feedback from students, you know, they were still kids so some of it was not fair at all. That low credit you got would result in a less positive image of you in front your colleagues and even headmaster!

    Luckily(it not always happens), when we went to the senior grade in 2007, we had a new adademic manager. What made him different was that he did some editing and censoring ( what our government is really good at). He kept the good feedback, changed the negative feedback into indirect expectations and deleted some really hurting feedback, then printed it out and handed it to all the teachers in this grade. So i could not only see mine, but also teachers of other subjects of all age groups!

    It had fantastic outcomes: we didn’t know we had so many merits in the eyes of our students, so we really appreciated that and were eager to improve ourselves. At the same time, from the students’ description, we found every colleauge had their own charms which was hard for us to see if we worked in different offices or classrooms. Therefore, a mutual respect grew bwtween us and that made us feel even better!

    I would do the same if i had been an academic manager. Of course, it is just a “mixed conditional” sentence…

  7. Hi Jeremy

    A fine topic!

    For me the whole question of praise, or positive feedback, is to do with how genuine we feel it to be. Teachers love good feedback from their students because it’s usually direct and real. Sometimes in the manager-teacher relationship, it can perhaps feel like a technique that’s used by the manager, rather than an expression of true feeling. Of course, when people are being genuine, despite their roles, that doesn’t happen.

    That’s my two cents.


    • Hi Sue,
      yes, I think you are absolutely right, that artificial ‘manager-praise’ is counter-productive. Genuine ‘manager-praise’ is magic, though. So do teachers just have to wait for that moment? Is there any way to ‘engineer’ it, or does that question instantly make it an insincere technique?

  8. Well, I think another question to ask is how often does it happen to people in other jobs that they get a ‘medal’ or praise for something they’ve done? (apart from editors, who are lucky enough to hear lots of praise from their beloved authors 😉 ) I used to work in a shop selling crockery and cutlery and the like, and very very occasionally someone would say e.g. how beautifully I had wrapped something or praised my cunning trick for adding handles to photo frames that didn’t fit in our carrier bags. That made all the difference to a dull twelve-hour shift in the Tottenham Court Road but it didn’t happen very often. So I suppose what I’m saying is try it out yourself, giving praise to people who do their job better than they would have to.
    However, I do believe that several of my teachers have made me what I am, and have on occasion told them. Once I wrote a letter to my former German teacher, who completely changed my life, but he never replied. So perhaps not all teachers want these kind of medals?

    • Thanks for this – and I am surprised that your German teacher never replied. But even if he/she didn’t I bet they felt a warm glow of satisfaction. I think (see China comment above) that giving praise – when and if it is deserved – is good for the ‘praiser’ too. As you say, why not try it out?

  9. I think we’re lucky enough to work in an extremely rewarding profession. I’ve worked in publishing and believe me, presentperfect, editors don’t get that much praise! But standing in front of a class and seeing all those faces watching you with interest, or watching your students all chatting away in groups happily, turning to you for help with a word or phrase, watching them make their slow progress through the anarchy of the English language … they’re my medals.

  10. Great post, Jeremy, and – I think like a lot of other teachers here – it was a poignant reminder to me of the times I’ve experienced the (positive) “blast from the ELT past”, and a great way for people to remember that great feeling. Thank you!

    I’ve been particularly lucky in some ways, having taught a lot of young, very young and teenage students. They grow up awfully quick and come back and find you before your aging memory slips too much, and there’s a reasonable chance you’ll recall the name if not the face (because they go and grow up and change on you!).

    I’ve had 12 year-old students come to my school in a neighbouring city because they remembered me as a ‘great teacher’ when they were in kindergarten 7 years earlier! That’s happened 3 or 4 times and brought me to tears every time (a most unseemly look when you’re supposed to be a big tough strict academic coordinator in the East Asian context…). Similarly, I’ve had adults bump into me in the street and greet me happily by name – I’d taught them 5 or 6 years earlier as youngish Middle School students and now they were in fabulous universities. Facebook has been particularly interesting in this sense, as a lot of ex-students find me that way these days, too.

    It is just such an amazing buzz, isn’t it?!

    Like you, I’ve pondered a little why it is such a great feeling, and it has (for me, anyway) only a little to do with the idea that your learners thought you were great and remember you. It’s more like walking into an overflowing garden, full of life, and remembering that you planted some of the seeds and watered them. With the language, it’s amazing to think you played some kind of role in this person’s confidence and fluency, but above and beyond anything else, you get this “WOW! this teaching thing actually WORKS!” sensation.

    Because language learning takes so much time, and grows and changes as people do, and because we are so darned busy all the time, we only see progression in our students in very small doses at a time. We start a lot of projects that we never see brought to completion. Hearing from those students later, we see the full package, and realise all those efforts and little frustrations were worth it. It’s what makes teaching the noble (and lucky) profession it is.

    And you’re absolutely right – teachers can’t see these sorts of things as they are happening in real time. They need the positive feedback from coordinators, as well as the reassurance that all these efforts will come to fruition eventually. My policy was always 2 compliments + 1 criticism + 1 suggestion (when evaluating my teachers), but beyond that, the experienced coordinator should be able to see an achievement or progression in a teacher even if that teacher can’t see it at the time (quite common), and then remind them of it or explain its positive significance. Stuff like “hey, that class of kids was a shambles when you started – but look at ’em now! They adore you, and they’re learning!” or “Hey, thought you said you couldn’t teach writing skills, eh? Look at this work your students are producing – it’s fabulous!”

    Making the effort to do that sort of thing a couple of times a day is (or should be) nothing for a caring coordinator or co-teacher. But it can mean everything to the recipient, turn a dark day into a bright one, or serve as a reminder that not only are they genuinely improving, they’re doing something worthwhile.

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