Responsible for nearly 50 million children in public school alone, teachers have some of the most demanding and stressful jobs in the nation. Teachers have dedicated their lives (and sometimes their health) to their pupils, standing on their feet all day, taking very little time for breaks, and bringing work home with them. Tuesday, May 5, 2015 is National Teacher Appreciation Day, a day that we stop to honor and celebrate these heroes in the classroom for all they do for our nation’s children and their families.

So what is it like to be a teacher?

The academics are a given, but the job is so much more than reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic. Even beyond the new demands that come with a changing global world economy that offers its own challenges for graduates, teachers see children awake more than their parents do during the school year. This means that teachers are responsible for the mental/emotional, social, and physical health of their students during the day.

Mental/emotional health

School-aged children experience challenges that were not present when their teachers were in school. The internet allows access to the world at lightning speed, but it also transmits horrific images and news coverage just as quickly. Additionally, cyberbullying is a very real problem, with sometimes troubling consequences. The incidence of depression and anxiety diagnoses in schoolchildren is also rising, due in part to increased testing, less free time to play, and more pressure to perform at an earlier age.

To support their students, teachers need to be quick to spot the signs of distress related to information overload, internet bullying, and other mental health issues.

Social health

There is conflicting evidence regarding whether or not computers and technology makes students more or less social, but the fact remains that every interaction during the day is helping kids develop appropriate social behaviors. A rise in the diagnosis of autism, ADD, and ADHD may be due to more awareness, or it may be due to other factors. Regardless, teachers find themselves in charge of classrooms filled with students of differing social readiness and ability.

Physical health

In the U.S., an estimated 17% of children between the ages of four and 18 will experience chronic pain at some point. This can affect everything about their lives, from their ability to stay awake in class after a painful night of sleep to the quality of their work when they are having a flare-up. Teachers need to know how to support students with chronic pain and other conditions so that they can get the education they deserve.

Federal laws related to No Child Left Behind (NCLB) passed in 2001 mandated that students be educated in the least restrictive environment, which means teachers may have students with profound physical and behavioral challenges in the same room as students who are able-bodied and highly capable. Designing a positive educational experience for a range of abilities can be a complicated and stressful endeavor.

With all of the complicated needs in the classroom, teachers often forget to take care of themselves. Even the most dedicated, enthusiastic, and committed teacher may wake up one morning and find themselves feeling stressed out and tired from the demands of their job. This is where National Teacher Appreciation Day, and every other school day of the year, comes in.

Support your teachers

Here are a few easy ways to support your child’s teachers:

  • Give them a break: This can be in the form of a gift card to a coffee shop or a pedicure for tired feet. If you know they enjoy a particular hobby, like gardening or hiking, a gift related to those pursuits may be in order. Double points if your child helps pick it out, makes a card to go with it, or personalizes it in some way. Other ideas are to literally give them a break. Teachers suffer from higher incidence of urinary tract infections because they cannot leave their classrooms to use the restroom. If you are regularly at your child’s school, and it is allowed, take a moment to watch the class while their teacher takes a bathroom break. It is five minutes that will make a world of difference!
  • Give them a hand: Is there a time you can volunteer regularly in the classroom so that the teacher can step out? Maybe they have a weekly reading period that you can help monitor, or maybe they are planning a big project and need to collect supplies from each student. Volunteer to be the person in charge of coordinating supplies, or plan a class picnic for the end of the year where the teacher can relax and enjoy his or her students. It is important to note that while all teachers could use some help, sometimes it can be difficult to match parents with volunteer jobs. If you see a need, step in to fill it. That is a gift in and of itself!
  • Give them some recognition: If your town, city, or state offers teacher recognition days or opportunities to nominate your child’s teacher for a special award, take the time to nominate them and recognize their hard work. Give them some love on Facebook or Twitter, and have your child write them a letter to let them know how much they appreciate what their teacher does. Not only are you offering an excellent lesson on the importance of gratitude to your child, but you are also making an educator’s day with your thanks.
  • Give them supplies: The simplest gesture of all can be a box of tissues. Teachers go through tissues, hand sanitizer, and other school supplies at an incredible rate. Look around to see what’s needed (or ask your child), then send in some supplies. The average teacher spends $513 out of their own pocket on classroom supplies. Lighten that burden a little.

We owe an enormous debt of gratitude to the teachers who give so much of themselves every day. How will you mark National Teacher Appreciation Day this year?

Image by Joanne Johnson via Flickr

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