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Daily Pilot

Commentary: Recognize teachers in real, not artificial, ways

By Brian Crosby

2:24 PM PDT, May 23, 2014

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May is "thank your local teacher" month. Consider that Teacher Appreciation Week is May 5 through 9, National Teacher Day is May 6 and California's Day of the Teacher is May 14.

While it is nice to have one's vocation 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 that it squeezes among the Mother's Day, Father's Day and Flag Day assortments.

The 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 in 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 find the right 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 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, according to a 2012-13 survey conducted by the National School Supply and Equipment Assn.

Recently, corporations have jumped onboard. Target sponsors an All-Star Teachers contest, spotlighting 30 teachers. This year it coincides with the Major League Baseball All-Star Game. Such national recognition is long overdue.

One of the best gifts I ever got came from a former principal, who gave his faculty members a coupon good for one hour off of work any day of the year. And he would personally cover the classes. While I didn't redeem all of the coupons I received, the gesture — 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.

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 educational changes.

Look, we all like getting recognized for a job well done, an encouraging note, a pat on the back and in some professions — though not education — even a bonus.

But let's put our efforts into reshaping the teaching profession, and make Teacher Appreciation Day obsolete.

BRIAN CROSBY is a teacher and a columnist for Times Community News in Los Angeles County. He can be reached at brian-crosby.com.