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If you were to come into my home and look in my pantry, you would see a spice rack with 10 jars of spices.  These jars may be a little dusty, and they all look alike. In fact, even if you look closely, it is difficult to tell the difference between thyme and rosemary or rosemary and basil. And why would that be? Well, these spices happen to be really old. I certainly do not cook with them, but I just cannot bear to throw them away because they were a gift from a 10th-grade boy in my homeroom class when I was a teacher.

So many parents head to the stores during the holidays to purchase cards, chocolate, coffee, gift certificates, and more to thank their children’s teachers for all that they do. A thoughtful present from a child, be it a homemade card, a batch of cookies, or even an apple-shaped coffee mug, was always special to me. But the really special things I have noticed during the decades I have spent in public education are the many gifts teachers give to students.

A year ago, I met a teacher from eastern North Carolina. She was a single parent of two and taught elementary school for nearly 30 years. One year, one of her second graders was having trouble seeing letters. The school nurse checked his vision and sure enough, he needed glasses. This little boy’s family was unable to pay for glasses so this teacher used her own money to purchase the child’s glasses instead. I am not sure the boys’ family ever knew or recognized this teacher for what she had done but that wasn’t important. The only thing that mattered to this teacher was that she could give one of her students a better shot at success.

Teachers across the state make sacrifices every day. They buy supplies with their own money, devote time before school to tutor, or spend time after school and on weekends coaching sports or supporting extracurricular clubs. They wake up early and stay up late planning lessons and grading papers. They do this because they care about our students and are invested in their success. Teachers are selfless and kind throughout the year, not just during the holiday season. We are fortunate that so many of these outstanding educators have chosen to work in North Carolina’s public school classrooms.

There is no way to repay teachers for the many gifts they bring to young people. But recognizing the many sacrifices they make and giving them the higher salaries they truly deserve could be a great start. I hope you will join me in thanking our educators as we celebrate the new year and throughout this school year.

Dr. June Atkinson

June Atkinson is the state superintendent of public instruction for North Carolina. Read her full profile here >>