Teacher Says She’s Grateful For ‘Anything’ While Sharing Her Alarming ‘Teacher Appreciation’ Gift — ‘There’s A Coupon For Cremation’

"I am very grateful… but this is what it's like to be a public school teacher."

teacher disappointed by an alarming teacher appreciation gift shih-wei / Getty Images | Rido | Canva Pro

The only truly appropriate gift for Teacher Appreciation Week would be a gazillion-dollar pay raise, but that's impossible, so Starbucks cards and the like usually have to suffice. 

But one teacher received a truly alarming gift that struck her as sadly symbolic.

The teacher's alarming Teacher Appreciation gift felt like a sad commentary on what it's like to work in an underfunded school district.

American public schools are woefully underfunded — to the tune of a $150 billion yearly funding gap that impacts more than two-thirds of the country's public schools, according to a 2020 study


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Declining enrollment nationwide and a deepening literacy crisis are just two of the multifaceted impacts of this funding gap. Still, the high rates of resignations among teachers are another bellwether of just how much trouble our education system is in.


To illustrate the situation many American teachers are in, look no further than the Teacher Appreciation Week gift a North Carolina public school teacher named Erin recently received.

The alarming Teacher Appreciation gift included a coupon for cremation services from the funeral home that sponsored the gift bags.

Erin was careful to note that she is "very grateful for the PTA putting these bags together with the resources they have." But the contents of the bags and the context in which they were received "paints a pretty accurate picture of what it's like to be a public school teacher in an underfunded district."

Erin began by pointing out that she makes $43,000 a year before taxes, which is woefully inadequate even for a small city like Durham, North Carolina, where she lives, where the median rent is about $2000 a month.


The gift bag contained things like a water bottle donated by a local church along with a paper invitation to attend a church service, a stress ball, a keychain and lanyard, a tube of lip balm, and some candy.

She also received a small notebook that she said was "a little damp" because, tellingly, the air conditioner in her classroom is broken, "so it's really humid."

But the real kicker was the final gift Erin showed off, which she jokingly called her "personal favorite": A bottle of hand sanitizer from a funeral home along with a coupon for 10% off cremation services — a pretty shocking inclusion given the constant specter of gun violence hanging over American schools. "Happy Teacher Appreciation Week to me," Erin joked.


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Other teachers shared similar Teacher Appreciation Week experiences that show the problems at Erin's school are widespread.

People were pretty unanimously shocked by the gift Erin received. "Dystopian, but I like the gesture," one person commented. Another likened the gift bag's contents to "what I find when cleaning out my car." Her paltry salary also alarmed people.

But Erin's fellow teachers were far from surprised. "The AC being out made this video so accurate," one teacher commented. "One year, we got a can of Progresso soup because we’re 'souper.'"

"I got fruit salad on Monday, and then on Tuesday, we got smoothies, which was all of the leftover fruit salad blended up," another teacher added.


And keeping with the bizarre theme of cremation services, another teacher wrote that their school "raffled off a will" for Teacher Appreciation Week. "Like a lawyer would write your will." Fitting gifts, really, for a profession that is rapidly becoming one in which you accept that you are taking your life into your own hands each day. 

School funding has long been a problem in America and is only getting worse.

America's education funding crisis has only deepened in recent years, according to the Education Law Center. It's gotten more inequitable, too, as much legislation from the 2000s and 2010s that was intended to shift funding from richer to poorer school districts has since been found to do the opposite.

And just in recent weeks, scores of districts nationwide have addressed these budget shortfalls not by cutting jobs among high-paying positions like administrators, who often make six figures, but by laying off teachers who have already suffered from unmanageable class sizes for years due to massive waves of teacher resignations since 2020.

The unintended farce of gifting a teacher like Erin a coupon for cremation services would be hilarious if it weren't such an on-the-nose depiction of an education system on the brink of collapse, being held together solely by the few teachers still willing to stick it out in their jobs.


It is anyone's guess how long those teachers will be willing to endure a political climate that villainizes them at every turn and refuses to fund their work.

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John Sundholm is a news and entertainment writer who covers pop culture, social justice, and human interest topics.