May is “thank your local teacher” month: Teacher Appreciation Week (May 5 through 9), National Teacher Day (May 6) and California’s Day of the Teacher (May 14).
While it is nice to have one’s vocation be singled out, it would be nicer if teaching did not have to be put on the calendar of Hallmark card celebrations. Even See’s Candies designs a Teacher Appreciation Box squeezed among the Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and Flag Day assortments.
The unsaid message beneath such recognition is that because teachers are underpaid and underappreciated, scheduling a once-a-year time to make them feel special makes everyone feel better.
Well, here are some actual trinkets that I’ve received, each with an attached message. While well meaning, they often come across as demeaning:
— A penny: “We are the lucky ones”
— A compact mirror: “You are looking at a VERY SPECIAL PERSON!”
— A miniature fan: “You are fan-tastic!”
— A marble: “We think you’re simply marble-lous”
— A Cup O’Noodles “You are SOUP-er” (at least I could eat that one)
I sincerely do thank all the parents who as part of their local PTA or booster club invest countless hours into showing how much they appreciate their children’s educators. Think about the time it took for a mom or dad to print out all of the tiny pieces of paper, cut and tape each one to each trinket and sort them in all of the teachers’ mailboxes.
At least their efforts took more thought than when school districts send out a mass email thanking everybody as if it is just another task to be checked off on a to-do list.
The governor of Georgia once gave each teacher a $100 gift card for office supplies, quite a practical gift considering teachers spend an average of $485 out of their pockets based on a 2012-2013 survey conducted by the National School Supply and Equipment Assn.
Recently, corporations have jumped onboard. Targe sponsors an All-Star Teachers contest that coincides with this year’s Major League Baseball All-Star Game, spotlighting 30 teachers. Such national recognition is long overdue.
One of the best gifts I ever got came from former principal Don Duncan who gave his faculty members a coupon good for one hour off of work any day of the year (Don would personally cover the classes). While I didn’t redeem all of the coupons I received, the gesture of allowing a teacher a short breather from the day-to-day energy drain of teaching was generous.
My main gripe is not with the local parents who participate in making their kids’ teachers feel good, but with the concept of prefabbed, programmed national events, a convenient way out of confronting the long-standing issues in whatever the celebration is about.
An artificial annual ritual is no substitute for changing the shortcomings of the teaching profession. These include teachers getting paid based on how long they’ve been working and not on how well they work, and teachers overlooked for their expertise whenever politicians implement sweeping education changes.
Look, we all like getting recognized for a job well done — an encouraging note, a pat on the back, even a bonus (though not in education).
But let’s put our efforts in reshaping the teaching profession, and make Teacher Appreciation Day obsolete.
BRIAN CROSBY is a teacher in the Glendale Unified School District and the author of "Smart Kids, Bad Schools and The $100,000 Teacher." He can be reached at brian-crosby.com.