Ask any teacher and they can tell you… Which of their students struggle at home? Which avoid the limelight? Which excel at leadership and which need encouragement to be out front?

Educators spend every day getting to know everything about their students so that they can tailor teaching and activities to each student’s unique needs. And even in the best of years, educating is a taxing profession.

It’s Teacher Appreciation Week May 3-7 and while every day is a great time to thank a teacher, now is better than ever. It’s also a great time to check in with the educators in your life to see how they are doing.

Teaching is an inherently giving profession. And educators are often viewed as superhuman. They buy supplies, wipe noses, grade papers, impart wisdom and guide youths on the path to the future. But the COVID-19 pandemic has served as a painful reminder that at their core, teachers are also parents, children, spouses and individuals.

Just a few months ago, researchers surveyed teachers nationwide to gauge how they’re doing. When asked to describe how they were feeling, the top five feelings were: anxious, fearful, worried, overwhelmed and sad.

They’ve been doing so much and adapting to unforeseen challenges, all to ensure that kids in Arizona get the skills they need to succeed. But as the school year winds to a close, teachers are worn out. They’ve spent the past year adapting to changed modalities; worrying about colleagues, loved ones and students; helped children through their own worries and losses; not to mention finding themselves on the receiving end of personal attacks. While some uncertainty around the coming year looms, ongoing vaccination efforts have hampered some of that worry.

Thankfully, the increased attention on mental health will hopefully bring more acceptance and assistance around challenges like depression and anxiety… for both students and educators. Some schools are utilizing things like mindfulness rooms for teachers and students, alike. At one school, a social worker runs weekly mindfulness classes. And one district orchestrated a self-care event for counselors and social workers.

But Arizona’s teachers need more of that. And especially during Teacher Appreciation Week, educators need to know that their work is valued. By acknowledging their sacrifices and contributions, we can bolster their spirits and validate their role in our communities.

Even if you don’t have kids in schools today, you can help. Check in with a neighborhood school to find out what they need; offer to bring in breakfast or lunch for the staff; craft a handwritten note of gratitude; encourage them by seeking out the positive things that have come out of this year and practice patience.

Teachers are where every other profession gets its start. And Teacher Appreciation Week is a great time to honor educators’ contributions.