Mom always was one of those teachers who was “rewarded” for being good. She got the biggest, rowdiest classes each year.

The thinking went something like this: School principal has two teachers at each grade level. The weaker one wouldn’t do well or shouldn’t be trusted with handling the most challenging pupils, so voila! Skilled performer gets the heaviest lift, every time out.

This was a flattering con job right up there with Tom Sawyer hoodwinking his pals into whitewashing Aunt Polly’s fence.

So the “good teacher” penalty hit Mom, and as a kindergarten teacher, that meant she was really up against it. That’s two groups a day — morning and afternoon half-day sessions, you know — with an extra half-dozen 5-year-olds to corral in each.

Mom persisted, right to the very end of her lengthy career. So today, as she resides in her senior living facility, she has plenty of empathy for the dwindling, overworked staff who help her get her day started and bring her meds three times a day.

Hopefully, we took a big enough cake for each and every one of them as we celebrated her 88th birthday there today. It’s a small token of appreciation, and not the only way we say thank you throughout the year. Hopefully we’ve clearly shown how grateful and indebted we are for their diligence.

I know Mom always remembered gracious students and parents. We’re counting on the same dynamic here. And we’re hoping that the respect flows downward too. Most, if not all, of these caregivers deserve it. We know that for sure.

In fact, as a consumer-family, we know a lot about what goes on at “The Joint,” as Mom fondly calls her home. Personally having a loved one in the senior care continuum goes way beyond playing a “secret shopper,” I’ll add. 

For example, we can attest how utterly valuable optimistic caregivers are. And we’ve seen firsthand how important consistent assignment is. Older folks have weathered a lot of changes in their lives, but they don’t necessarily want them now.

We also know that price hikes do not necessarily always mean higher wages for vital frontline employees. While there’s undoubtedly some complex formula that figures out the economics, it seems that the frontliners ought to be considered more as partners in this stressful equation.

That said, we’ve also personally heard about workers being offered an extra $100 to stay for a second shift — sometimes offered and expected with no advance notice, but at least offered. And we know that caregivers with families or dependents at home sometimes can’t do it. This, even if their sore legs and backs were holding up OK and they wanted the extra cash.

The caregivers become our friends, and vice versa. We may know it’s a manager’s problem not to have enough workers to spread around, but we get selfish and want our favorites anyway.

As a result, we know the “good” employee penalty might be invoked. That’s a shame. But more often than not, we see that they, like Mom, soldier on. Just like her, they do it partly out of fondness for those in their care and partly because they love what they do.

As some of the year’s most festive holidays approach, here’s an appeal to let your staff know how much they’re appreciated — especially those really good ones you lean on and count on over and over again.  And do it with more than a plate of cookies or a few extra bucks in their paycheck. It’s easy to take them for granted, especially if you’re lost in your own workspace whirlwind. 

Give them a big dose of empathy. Mom style.

James M. Berklan is McKnight’s Executive Editor.

Opinions expressed in McKnight’s Long-Term Care News columns are not necessarily those of McKnight’s.