CONCORD – This week, May 7th – 11th, the United States will celebrate the 33rd official Teacher Appreciation Week to honor teachers all over the country. While 1985 marked the first federally recognized day to honor teachers, the history of teacher appreciation runs far deeper.
It began with one great teacher making a difference.
Around 1944 during World War II, Arkansas teacher Mattie Whyte Woodridge, an African American teacher who taught at a school in the segregated South, decided teachers should be honored for the contributions they make to society.
Mrs. Woodridge was the top teacher at Eliza Miller High in her day; she won “Outstanding Teacher of the Year” four years running. She wanted all teachers to feel honored and soon began to work on a mission to make that recognition happen.
Mattie Whyte Woodridge began writing to political and educational leaders, including every governor and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, about proclaiming a day to honor the selfless efforts of the nation’s teachers.
For nearly a decade, the First Lady and Mrs. Woodridge corresponded. In 1953 the widow of Franklin Delano Roosevelt prevailed at last on the 81st Congress to proclaim a National Teacher Day; they recognized the day for that year only.
While this would not become a recurring holiday until 1985, Roosevelt’s victory laid the groundwork for a yearly celebration of educators around the country. The National Education Association (NEA) began its pursuit for a day of recognition for teachers in the late 1970s and was rewarded with another National Teachers’ Day in 1980. However, it was not recognized the next year.
NEA, continuing to celebrate Teacher Day each year, teamed up with the National PTA in 1985. Together, the groups decided that not only should teachers be honored one day each year, but that a full week would be needed to honor the importance of educators. Since then, National Teachers’ Week is observed the first full week of May, and National Teachers’ Day on that Tuesday, now officially a US holiday. This year May 7-11 is Teacher Appreciation Week.
There is no doubt, Mattie Whyte Woodridge made a tremendous contribution to her beloved profession and fellow teachers, but the impact she made on her students had to be immense. In their teacher her students saw a spokeswoman, a champion and a fighter; the epitome of perseverance, she showed that one great teacher can make all the difference.
When we think back on our years in school, it is not usually the actual lessons we remember, but the educators who served as role models and taught us every day. Great educators connect with their students, forging strong relationships. They are committed to their students’ well-being both inside and outside the classroom. Their focus is on students succeeding beyond term papers and standardized tests.
But, teachers may not always see the impact of their work on their students. They may not know that, because of them, one discovered a love for learning, another learned to believe in himself, and another was inspired to think differently about the world. Teachers change lives every day, and it is important to ensure they know they are appreciated.
So, this week, reflect on the teachers you have had and the impact they have had on your life. Take a moment to share your appreciation for these special educators and thank them for becoming your teacher.
In 1985 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 celebrations.”
On that day, we can be assured her former students recognized the impact their teacher had on their lives.
On August 14, 1999, Mattie Whyte Woodridge died at age 90. Her patience and diligence led to the permanent establishment of an annual event, Teacher Appreciation Week, that continues to shine a spotlight on teachers and education year after year.
As we honor our own teachers this week, let us also remember to honor the legacy of Mattie Whyte Woodridge.
It began with one great teacher making a difference!
Editor’s note: This article was contributed by Cindy Howard Austin, a new addition to the talented team of writers at the Richmond Observer.