2013-5-6-teacherappreciation2
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Thumb_betsycorcoran Betsy Corcoran ·

You Matter

Finding the roots of National Teacher Appreciation week

Thank you, Mrs. Woodridge! You matter.

In the U.S., Tuesday is officially Teacher Appreciation Day. Dozens of countries have a designated day to appreciate teachers. (October 5, "World Teachers Day" is also a popular choice.)

But in the U.S., the roots of this story go back the early 1940s and a 30-something year old teacher with the tongue-twister name of Mrs. Mattye Maye Whyte Woodridge.

At the time, Mrs. Woodridge taught at Eliza Miller High School in Arkansas. The school itself was something of a marvel: it was built on property purchased and donated by Eliza A. Ross Miller, a successful entrepreneur and the first woman to build and operate a movie theater in Arkansas, who was determined to have a high school for black students. Mrs. Woodridge was the top teacher at Eliza Miller High in her day, so much so that she won "Outstanding Teacher of the Year" four years running, leaving the other teachers more than a tad bit envious.

And so Mrs. Woodridge began a letter campaign to win recognition for all teachers.

She started writing in 1944, reaching out to governors, political leaders, and education leaders. Mrs. Woodridge carried on her campaign for almost eight years.

Around 1952, Mrs. Woodridge's letter campaign finally reached then former First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt, who had become an active speaker and writer. In January 1953, Mrs. Roosevelt described how the "National Teachers Day Committee" called upon the President to proclaim a National Teachers Day. (Might that "committee" been only the indomitable Mrs. Roosevelt?) In any event, the 81st Congress passed a resolution.

By then Mrs. Woodridge was apparently a principal at the local elementary schools. It would take until 1980 for Arkansas Teacher Day to became state law. And it would be another five years until Mrs. Woodridge was recognized with a special award at the National Education Association's Human and Civil Rights Banquet for her “tireless efforts to promote a positive image of the teaching profession through national, state, and local teacher’s day celebration." Mrs. Woodridge passed in 1999, at the age of 90.

Mrs. Roosevelt's comments on teachers are worth repeating:

"The teachers are, of course, among the most important people in our nation. Day in and day out they are at work preparing the future citizens of the U.S. The home and the school and the church together have a paramount influence that sets standards by which our children will live their lives…..

"...good teachers give so much of themselves every day that by the end of the week they are really tired out, and if they did not have the holidays in which to study, to travel or to relax, they could never give the children under them the inspiration that children need...

"A good teacher, too, must always have an alert mind and be open to new impressions and ready to acquire new knowledge. If she does not stay young in mind the pupils will soon realize that they are dealing with a narrow, static person, and their respect for her will dwindle.

"It is in the classroom that many of our children get their best lessons in democracy, and the men or women teaching our children must remember that school experience is just a preparation for the wider experience of life and citizenship in a democracy."

Teachers teach--and not just in classrooms. We'd like to give some shoutouts this week to teachers who are taking their message into the wider world.

Start with this terrific TEDx talk by teacher-turned-writer and speaker, Angela Maiers.

Mrs. Maiers' message is clear and direct: Teachers matter.

Teachers matter in the classroom, and increasingly, in startups. Many of the startups that we cover at EdSurge were started by teachers. Some taught for two years with Teach For America. An impressive number are run by veteran teachers. All this week, we'll shine a light on some of the latest ventures of teachers. For starters:

  • Teachers (and their students!) at Leadership Public Schools have created a free tool called ExitTicket, which is helping do a pulse check on the effectiveness of lesson before students leave class.
  • Gobstopper, a nifty reading platform for teachers and students that aims to help them "flip" their classrooms, is ready to jump in, created by teacher Jason Singer, is available for free for summer reading programs.
  • eduClipper, created by former school technology director, Adam Bellow, gives both teachers and students a great to way to share digital resources.

Check back for more details on these and several others that are warming up with big announcements this week.

And, again, thank you--Mrs. Woodridge, Mrs. Maiers, all the teacher leaders at places like Leadership Public Schools and Gobstopper--for demonstrating every day that teachers matter.


About the Author

Regular_betsycorcoran
EdSurge founder & CEO, previously Executive Editor for technology coverage at Forbes Media and an award-winning staff writer for the Washington Post & Scientific American. Email: betsy@edsurge.com

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