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End-of-year teacher gifts: What do we really owe our educators?

In this file photo, gift cards are displayed at a store in Methuen, Mass.
Elise Amendola
In this file photo, gift cards are displayed at a store in Methuen, Mass.

It was a hard year for my family, especially for my kids. They have grappled with anxiety and loss coming out of the pandemic, like so many of their peers. But my kids were lucky. They had extraordinary teachers, and it has made all the difference.

What do we owe teachers who helped our kids navigate a global pandemic?

The last three years have demanded endless creativity, immense care, and lots of extra work for teachers. First they rebuilt their curriculum for remote learning, then they redesigned their classrooms so kids could return safely.

These demands have taken a toll. Last year a survey conducted by RAND Corp. found nearly 60% of teachers reported feeling burned out.

It’s not just teachers. Over the last decade, rates of depression for teens have doubled. The suicide rate for 10- to 14-year-olds has tripled. That’s how old my kids are.

No gift card can capture my gratitude for the care teachers have shown my kids, for the ways they have affirmed them, inspired them and challenged them. And they do all of this while battling book bans and building lockdown drills into their lesson plans.

What do we owe teachers who show up every day through all of this?

Right now, across western Massachusetts, teachers are asking for fair wages and equitable contracts.

When I send in my end-of-year gifts, I will also be urging my local school committee to thank teachers and school staff by giving them what they are owed: fair contracts and meaningful wages that honor the invaluable work they do.

Josh Stearns is the senior director of the Public Square Program at Democracy Fund. He and his family live in Southampton, Massachusetts.

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