It’s been a difficult couple years for America’s public school teachers. When schools transitioned to online learning in the face of the coronavirus pandemic, educators around the country took on the challenge and adapted quickly to meet their students’ needs. Now that students are back to in-person learning, teachers are working vigorously to make up for lost instruction time.
Teacher Appreciation Week, celebrated the first full week in May, is an opportune time to honor the educators who inspire and equip young students to grow to their fullest potential.
Expressions of gratitude do not have to be costly to show teachers that they are valued. Here are some tips from educators on ways for you and your child to show you care.
Consider Self-Care Gifts
“The teachers I work with all agree that practicing ‘self care’ is a huge theme this year, especially with the work demands of the past couple of years,” says Erin Triplett, a first grade teacher at Ben Franklin Academy in Colorado and the 2022 Elementary Educator of the Year for the Douglas County School District.
“Parents gave my co-worker a one-month membership at a specialty gym, and she loves it,” says Triplett. “Another family gave me some of my favorite products, like lip balm, a face mask and lotion.”
Small, inexpensive drugstore items like chocolate, bath bombs and foot lotion can also work. Triplett says these types of gifts help give teachers a small “getaway” from what can often feel like a 24-hour job.
Make It Personal
“We also love gifts that come from the heart and show how much our kiddos get to know us,” says Triplett. “For Christmas, one of my students insisted on getting me doggie treats because he knows how much I love my pups.”
Polly Samsock, a seventh grade teacher in Bethesda, Maryland, says she loves gifts that play on her role as an English teacher and her love of puns. “Last year, parents put together goodie bags that included KIND bars and hot chocolate bombs,” she says. The gifts included notes thanking teachers for their “KINDness” and adding “You are the BOMB!”
Another time, Samsock says, “I received an assortment of scratch-off lottery tickets with the note: ‘I hit the jackpot with you as my teacher!'”
Try Something Homemade
“The best gifts are kid-made gifts,” says Juliana Urtubey, who was the National Teacher of the Year in 2021. She recommends giving a handmade card adorned with a student’s drawings and filled with special memories, including the student’s favorite learning moments.
Hilary Starkey, a kindergarten teacher in Jefferson County, Colorado, agrees that handmade gifts from students, like pictures and crafts, are always special. “One of my favorite gifts was a plate that had each of my students’ fingerprints on it with their names and the year I taught them,” she says.
Write a Thank-You Note
Parents and students can never go wrong with a handwritten note. Urtubey says she loves reading thank-you notes from students that acknowledge “ways they feel seen” in the classroom, like when she remembers their dog’s name or how she stands at the door and greets them each morning.
Both the parent and child can write thank-you notes to show that they care. Parents can mention a teacher’s acts of kindness, big and small, like spending extra time to help a child with math homework. “Just knowing that they see every ounce of the love and heart we put into their children means so much,” says Triplett.
Urtubey also wants families to know that language is not a barrier when parents write thank-you notes. If a child’s teacher does not speak the home language of a student’s family, the parent can still write a thank-you note. With the help of a student (or Google Translate) the message will be happily received.
And don’t forget that teachers want to hear from past students, too, especially if a student transitioned from elementary school to middle school or from middle school to high school. Teachers love hearing about the ways students have applied their learning at higher grade levels.
Send a Voicemail Message
The National Education Association, the nation’s largest teachers’ union, asked teachers what they want most for Teacher Appreciation Week. “We found that educators want to be heard and recognized for the incredibly challenging work they’ve done over the past two-plus years,” says Richard Allen Smith, senior media strategist for the NEA.
“We set up a tool for people who want to send recognition and encouragement and let teachers know we’re listening,” he says.
Parents and students can text CELEBRATE to 48744, and receive instructions to record a voicemail for an educator. The NEA has educators signed up to receive these messages of encouragement throughout Teacher Appreciation Week, which runs May 2-7 in 2022.
[Read: What Is a Magnet School?]
Organize With the PTA
Families who want to get involved in a collective Teacher Appreciation Week project or event can turn to the school’s PTA or another parent organization affiliated with the child’s school.
Parent-teacher associations regularly organize initiatives to support teachers and school staff throughout the year. Tiffany Foster, president of the Durham Council of PTAs in North Carolina, says her group has partnered with local food vendors in the past to provide snacks, breakfast and lunch for teachers and staff.
Some PTAs organize a theme for each day, like “bring a teacher or staff member their favorite flower” or “dress up as your favorite teacher or staff member.”
For other collaborative gestures, Kimbrelle Barbosa Lewis, an elementary school principal in Tennessee and president of the National Association of Elementary School Principals, recommends that families put up thank-you yard signs at the school or leave sticky notes with positive affirmations in the staff lounge.
However students and parents choose to celebrate teachers in their lives, “any act of appreciation or thanks means so much to them,” Barbosa Lewis says.
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Update 04/29/22: This story was published at an earlier date and has been updated with new information.