Today, as you are probably aware, is Teacher Appreciation Day. The desks of teachers across the country are filled today with trinkets that represent their students’ affection, parents’ gratefulness, and no small measure of sucking up. Most of this stuff will be trashed later on, because the sheer amount of CRAP that you collect as a teacher is immense; I always ended up bringing huge boxes of gifts home at the end of the year to quietly be disposed of in thrift stores or the dumpster, so my students wouldn’t see. One giant stuffed Betty Boop became a dog toy. Of course, when gifts are meaningful and given with love, we tend to keep them, strange as they may sometimes be (a porcelain Santa in a sleigh for Valentine’s Day? Why not.). However, many of these items are gifts of obligation; I remember returning from a Teacher Appreciation Day breakfast at the school where I used to teach in LA with a tissue-paper-wrapped bottle of Two Buck Chuck. The administration spent TWO WHOLE DOLLARS to show me how much they appreciated me! Plus, I got the extra bonus of explaining to my 4th graders why I was carrying a bottle of wine to class.
This gift-giving tradition is generally well intentioned. The administrators were trying to show their appreciation for our hard work (or at least show that they cared enough to respect obligatory holidays). Well meaning parents and students want teachers to know how much they mean to them. And teachers do appreciate the thought. However, I can confidently say that there are other things that would be a much better show of appreciation for teachers.
Administrators, if you really want to appreciate your teachers, offer to teach a class for them one day while they get other things done that they really want to do. Offer them time to collaborate with their peers on a project they’ve been itching to complete. Support them in seeking professional development opportunities. Provide them with opportunities for leadership in the school, and highlight their accomplishments from the past year. Give them thoughtful feedback and encourage them to take risks.
Parents, if you want to show your appreciation for your child’s teachers, volunteer to spend some time in the classroom. Your child’s teachers are overworked and could use the extra help. Spend a day serving as an aide in their classrooms, filing papers, cleaning up workstations, or giving one on one assistance to students. Write the teachers letters about the impact they have had on your child. Ask the teachers if there is anything they’ve been wanting to buy for their classrooms and buy it, or take up a collection from parents to start saving for it.
Students, if you want to show your appreciation for your teachers, then PUSH TO BE YOUR BEST SELF. The best reward a teacher can possibly have is to see his or her students be successful. And if you feel that your teachers have really made a difference in your life, then tell them! Write a letter, sing a song, draw a picture, record a video. Do something to actually show them that they are meaningful to you.
When all else fails, go for the Starbucks gift card, but if you have the time and really care, you will also give of yourself to show your appreciation for how teachers give all they have to give every single day.