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Thank You Teachers! - Teacher Appreciation Week message from UEA President Heidi Matthews

5/8/2017

"Teachers are expected to reach unattainable goals with inadequate tools. The miracle is that at times they accomplish this impossible task."

Haim Ginott 

My dear colleagues,

Teacher Appreciation Week is a time of direct recognition and pampering that honestly, couldn't come at a better time with the 'testing season' upon us and the end of the school year just out of grasp. It's a time to find strength in the reminders that we do accomplish impossible tasks, we do reach unattainable goals - but we don't often see the fruits of our labor immediately. As educators in this day and age, we can't afford to wait for this one week every year to remind us of our impact on our students. This is a wonderful week and very appreciated - but it is up to us as individuals to seize upon the moments of appreciation that happen throughout our career to give us strength.

Perhaps the greatest gift we can share with a new educator is the story that we pull out on our most difficult day when we question our choice to be in the classroom. Our newer teachers simply have not had the time to have adult students come back to share how words we don't even remember uttering made such a great difference in their lives. Or how our belief in them in third grade was still in their heart as they had the confidence to go to graduate school, start a business or make a difficult decision.

Contract settlements across the state are pointing to financial appreciation in ways we have not seen in Utah for years. The "arms race" for teachers - as the media calls it - is exciting, but will take a statewide funding effort to be possible for all districts to have the capacity to compensate - and appreciate - all licensed teachers adequately and equitably. The salary increases many are seeing across our state reinforce that we are indeed appreciated. The pendulum is swinging and the spotlight is on us. Teacher Appreciation Week 2017 has a different feel than those of years past.

At the recent Park City March for Science, my husband, son and I caught the attention of the local television station because we were carrying brightly colored Dr. Seuss Truffula Trees. The camera man asked my husband to spell our names prior to the interview and promptly interrupted, "Wait - what? Mr. Matthews? My science teacher?" The camera man is 37 years old and recounted memories of being in my husband's applied science class as a sophomore. If you know me at all, you know that I have a special talent for getting choked up. My tears often embarrass my children, but that day, my son didn't laugh. Upon hearing these words from a former student, my son beamed with pride at his father - an educator who made a difference. Mr. Charlie Matthews stood a little taller, too. These are the moments of 'Teacher Appreciation' that we need to treasure and share.

I don't think it is a stretch to say that we would not be in this field if we had not been inspired by a teacher of our own. My Park City School District Superintendent Ember Conley credited one of her inspirations to the only Native American teacher she worked with in Cortez, Colorado, even though 42 percent of the student population was Native American. She didn't know it at the time, but seeing someone who looked and talked like her students in front of the classroom bolstered and inspired her and the children in ways that she could not have articulated at that point in her young career. Looking back, it was the strong, but gentle, figure of that teacher, Ms. Benally, who lit the spark of power behind a now commanding and passionate superintendent to become an even more vocal advocate for teaching staffs that mirror student populations.

Toward the end of this year's Legislative Session, Senator Jerry Stevenson shared with me the story of a teacher whose influence he did not fully appreciate until many years later. As a student, when young Jerry felt discouraged and want to change his schedule to a far less academic track, this teacher hijacked Jerry's schedule and set him on a trajectory that changed his life. His voice cracked a bit as he explained that he missed sharing his appreciation directly, but he was able to share it with the teacher's son upon his father's passing. Senator Stevenson's gratitude for his teacher was so deeply appreciated by the family that it was read at the memorial service. 

When Senator Stevenson shared this ultimate teacher appreciation with me, all I could think about was you -- the amazing teachers of this state!

We may not feel appreciated in the moment or maybe even sometimes for years, but stories like what Senator Stevenson shared, what Dr. Ember Conley experienced and what I was so fortunate to stumble upon with my husband, all indicate that the depth of what we do in our classrooms is stunning and miraculous. Let's embrace that, not only this 2017 Teacher Appreciation Week, but each and every day. 

Thank you for all you do, 

Heidi Matthews
UEA President 

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