Every year during the week before Thanksgiving week, we take the time to recognize our public school communities by celebrating American Education Week. Now, this week isn’t just about teachers and students, it’s also about some of the unsung heroes of our education system, including administrative staff, janitors, cafeteria workers, and even our school bus drivers. In order to recognize American Education Week, we thought we’d talk a bit about its history, along with some things you can do to celebrate.
The History of American Education Week
You might be surprised to learn American Education Week originated over 100 years ago! That’s right, the very first American Education Week celebration took place between December 4th – 10th, way back in 1921. A few years earlier, when representatives of the National Education Association (NEA) and the American Legion learned that nearly 25% of American World War I draftees were illiterate, they decided to put their heads together and find creative ways to gain public support for the education system.
It was in 1919 that a meeting was held between representatives of the NEA and the American Legion at the NEA Representative Assembly in Des Moines, Iowa. In order to combat the rise in illiteracy in the U.S., those in attendance agreed to set aside a week every year to place special emphasis on education in America. In its resolution, the assembly stated that American Education Week was to be “observed in all communities annually for the purpose of informing the public of the accomplishments and needs of public schools, and to secure the cooperation and support of the public in meeting those needs.”
The NEA and the American Legion served as the week’s first sponsors in 1921, and were joined by the U.S. Office of Education just a year later. In the years that followed, American Education Week gained a number of sponsors including the National PTA, the U.S. Department of Education, the American Federation of Teachers, the National School Boards Association, and many more.
The Week’s Events
The NEA has created a recommended structure to help schools and communities celebrate American Education Week. On Monday, schools are encouraged to host a kickoff event, which can include a series of educational activities. For Tuesday, parents are invited to attend their children’s classes to get a better understanding of the day-to-day classroom operations. The Wednesday during American Education Week just so happens to be Education Support Professionals Day. On this day, we celebrate the contributions of the support staff, from administrative professionals to school nurses, and everyone in between.
For Thursday’s events, members of the local community are invited to take on the role of teacher for a day. The purpose of this exercise is to give people a taste of the challenges that teacher face in providing an education for and meeting the needs of their students. Rounding out the week, we celebrate our substitute teachers on Friday for Substitute Educators Day. The events of the week are a great way to shed light on local educators, their accomplishments and needs, the challenges associated with providing adequate education, and the importance of showing support for public school communities.
How to Celebrate
Along with the NEA’s recommendations, there are many ways to celebrate American Education Week. Firstly, members of the community can contribute to gifts for teachers, principals, school staff, or any other members of their public school system. Additionally, parents, students, and members of the local community can put together their own events to show their appreciation for educators.
If you’re a teacher, try setting up some creative assignments for your students. For example, you could ask them to write down the things they like best about their school, or what they would like to see improved. For younger students, it could be fun to have them write cards to their favorite teachers or staff members.
Of course, many of the NEA recommended events can also take place virtually. For example, parents can join their children’s classrooms virtually, and community leaders can call into classes via services such as Zoom where they can share advice and other important information with students.
And with that, we’re all ready to celebrate American Education Week! Keep in mind as we spend this week each year celebrating, that the importance of an adequate education is perpetual—it requires communities to get involved and show support all year long. If you’re a student, make sure you tell your teachers how much you appreciate them this week. For all the teachers and school staff members out there, enjoy the rest of the week!