Dear Ms. Robertson:
It’s very easy to sit back and tell people to do something. In fact, it can even be fun at times. I’ve found that in life that there will always be people telling you to do something, whether that person is a teacher, a parent, a boss, or a sibling. But very few of those people show you that they’re telling you to do something for a reason! As some brilliant person once said, “Actions speak louder than words.” And until today, I’ve never seen a better example. The fact that you not only assigned us to write encouraging things to our classmates, you yourself did the same. Anyone can sit back and tell someone what to do, but it takes great character to do so on your own.
A very appreciative student
That note was left on my desk five years ago. I have no idea which of my students wrote it, yet I cherish the words he or she left behind.
What that student didn’t know is that I was having a very tough day. It was right before winter break, and anyone who has been in the classroom during this time of the year knows that the kids are off the wall. The negative behavior of students from difficult home environments intensifies and the academic focus dwindles, and we’re doing all we can to rein the kids in while finishing up units before heading out on vacation.
On this particular morning, my lesson had bombed, one of my students was blatantly disrespectful, and I just couldn’t wait for the day to end. I grumbled a bit during lunch with the other teachers, but my thought as I walked back to my classroom was that if I could just make it through the next two hours, the day would be over.
I didn’t notice the note at first, as I was focused on masking my negativity. When I finally did see the handwritten note on a piece of notebook paper, I didn’t look at it closely. I continued teaching my lesson and put it in a pile of papers to be graded.
It wasn’t until after school that I read that note, and it changed the rest of the week for me. Five years later, I still take it out and read it when I need to be reminded why I went into teaching.
The teaching profession is not for the weak… but most of us can’t imagine doing anything else. While I love my job, it has a way of wearing a person down. Long hours, state mandates, one meeting after another, stacks of grading, and many more expectations that sometimes can be overwhelming even to the most passionate teacher. However, it takes no money and very little time to change a teacher’s day – and a small show of appreciation will breathe life and inspiration into almost every one of us.
When one thinks of acknowledging teachers, it is generally for “Teacher Appreciation Day.” Parents go out and purchase gifts for their child to bring to school, making for a season of mugs, chocolate, and Starbucks gift cards. While we teachers appreciate it, fitting yet another gift mug into our already packed cabinets requires a skill set that not all of us possess.
The next time you want to acknowledge that passionate teacher, I humbly suggest these 7 easy teacher appreciation ideas:
1. A Note
Something so simple? Yes! Notes of appreciation from students (past or present), parents, other teachers, or administrators are precious. Whether it’s written in a card, on a piece of notebook paper, or scribbled on a post-it, they’re all encouraging and special to us. As I mentioned, we often keep them for years, and reach for them when we’re having difficult days. Many teachers even keep a folder of the notes they receive. I hang them on my wall for the school year and look at them often.
Parents, did a teacher spend a little extra time tutoring your child? Meet with you after school? Give your child an extension on a late assignment? Offer an opportunity for him or her to take the test over again? Go above and beyond for your child in some other way? Take a few minutes to jot a note to say thank you! When we know the extra work is noticed and appreciated, it is more likely to happen again.
And administrators, we love it when you recognize the extra work we put into a lesson. A small note in our mailbox brings a smile to our faces and increases the desire to do it again.
Students, whether you’re currently in our class or a student-of-the-past, yours is the voice that makes our hearts sing. When you take the time to write a note, we know we made a difference in your life… and that is why we got into teaching in the first place. More than anyone, yours is the recognition that we measure our success by.
Whether it be breakfast or lunch, a potluck organized by parents (the kind where we only show up to load our plates) is the best! Not only do we not have to worry about packing a lunch, the food is always delicious.
One of my favorite meals organized by parents was when dinner was provided for us. Baked potatoes with all the fixings, salad and dessert were set up to-go style. We were even asked a couple weeks beforehand how many people lived in our house; the meal we brought home fed our entire household.
3. Thoughtful Gifts
Every year when Christmas and Teacher Appreciation time rolls around, we educators are inundated with gifts. I took a poll of my teacher friends to find out what the top gifts given were. In no particular order, they are: mugs, candles, and body lotion. While we truly appreciate you thinking about us enough to bring us gifts, there is no more room in our cabinets for those cute little mugs! When purchasing a gift for a teacher, find out a bit about the person and give accordingly. (On the other hand, re-gifting works well with those gifts we receive in excess.)
4. Gift Cards
Coffee. It used to be that I could take it or leave it. And then there was the Christmas when I received over $50 in Starbucks cards. Good thing I had all those mugs!
Gift cards are a popular way to show appreciation to teachers. Go to any grocery store and there is a wide variety to choose from. How will you know which is the best one to get? While there are general ones that we’ll use and appreciate, there are also some gift cards that are more personal. A friend of mine once mentioned to me, “I like gift cards, but I wish they were more personal. When I’m in Target, I tend to use the gift card to buy things for my kids and nothing for myself.” One of the favorite gift cards I was given was found inside a box of microwave popcorn. It was a gift card for the local movie theater. The student/parent behind the gift knew how much I enjoy getting lost in a movie.
5. Planning Period Pampering
Can you imagine finding an oasis in the middle of a bustling school? It can happen! I experienced it once when our administration set up some spa time for us. Granted, it was in the teachers’ room, but we didn’t care. (It must have relaxed us too much, because it didn’t happen the following year.) A local woman brought in what was needed for facial treatments. Men and women alike applied the cream guaranteed to make our skin soft and supple. Our laughter was heard down the hall, but boy, did it feel good! Not only were our faces looking good, there was also a masseuse with a table in the room to give us a quick massage. We went back to class relaxed and with smiles on our faces.
I don’t know a teacher that doesn’t enjoy seeing a student from previous years, especially when that student makes a special effort to come see us. Typically, there is a hug and conversation about how life has changed since they were in our class. Long after they leave, the warm fuzzy feeling remains.
7. Following Instructions the FIRST time
I teach middle school. You know, the school years during which everything becomes about the kids’ new social lives. They want an adult’s affirmation one minute, and spurn it the next. As a result, much of what we teachers do in middle school classrooms is repeat ourselves. I imagine a day where I only have to say things once and my students follow all the rules and procedures. I cannot think of a greater form of appreciation than doing what the teacher asks without question, commentary, or argument (tall order though it may sometimes be).
A new school year has recently begun. Everything is fresh once again, and the entire school (students and teachers) is full of excitement. The possibilities are endless! And yet, the unscheduled meetings will soon begin. The pay raises we were hoping for may not come through. The end-of-year testing pressures will build. Late nights will be the norm as we try to get all the essays graded before the next day. Through it all, we teachers will do what we need to do.
In my first year as an educator, I began a tradition: Goodwill Cards, an assignment in which students write a positive comment or compliment to each of their classmates and teachers. The day they leave for winter break, each student gets an envelope with cards from their classmates and from me. It has been 21 years, and I still go back to the cards given to me in past years. The notes remind me what I love about the job despite all the stresses. Never doubt the significance of a kind word.
“Thank you for the way that you always love and care for me and the class” ~ 8th grade student