May 3, 2021

Peter Greene: The Very Best Teacher Appreciation Week Gifts

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This piece ran two years ago at, but I think it still holds up. The best teacher appreciation week gift is still… appreciation.

Since 1984, the PTA has designated the first week in May as Teacher Appreciation Week. The week is marked by lots of discounts from various vendors, suggestions for pretty decorations, and even social media ideas. There’s actually a theme: Teachers are out of this world. Pinterest is loaded with ideas. Some of it is pretty cheesy, and some of it is pretty ephemeral. If you really want to show appreciation to a teacher, what is your best option?

When I was in elementary school, I was an awkward mess of flailing limbs. But our gym teacher was great at crafting activities that helped build confidence and inclusiveness instead of sparking Darwinian playground struggles. I appreciated it, but maybe not as much as my parents did. They wrote him a lovely note, thanking him for helping me grow and become more confident. I know this, because decades later when I was back working with him as a teacher in the same district, he still had that letter. When he retired from public education and started teaching in a college teaching program and traveling as a motivational speaker, he still had the letter, saved in a file with other letters like it.

I have a file like that. So do many other teachers. You can give a teacher flowers, but they die. Food is great, but short-lived. Tchotchkes gather dust, though they do look cute on a desk. I taught high school, so my collection of unusual objects of appreciation was small, but my wife is an elementary school teacher, and her collection of objects d’appreciation is extensive. I don’t want to disparage any of those sincerely-meant gifts; if a student gives a teacher a well-intended from-the-heart pretty rock on a stick, that teacher will appreciate the thought.

But if you want to give the gift that keeps on giving, give a note. The teacher will get it out and read it again for years and years, drawing encouragement from it every time.

It is never too late to send that note. You don’t always appreciate a certain teacher until years after you’ve left her classroom. Send a note of appreciation then; I guarantee that she will be glad to get it. Of all the retirement gifts I received, a bound copy of many kind notes from former students is the most treasured.

The sincerity is key. This week teachers will be offered all sorts of gifts and discounts and attagirls from people who spend the other 51 weeks of the year treating teachers like dirt. Legislators will release messages about how important teachers are, and then they’ll go back to making sure that teachers don’t get more money or support while explaining that teachers really are the source of all problems in schools these days. Policy makers will issue press releases about the importance of teachers, then they will go back to ignoring teacher voices while crafting policy. Here’s a tip: If you are only going to appreciate teachers for one week out of the year, don’t bother. If you’re a school administrators who is just getting around to expressing appreciation for your teaching staff in May, well–never mind, because nobody is going to believe you.

A sincere, heartfelt note is simple, inexpensive, and much appreciated. But if you really want to go a step further, then express your appreciation of and support for teachers to your state legislators. If you think teachers should be paid more, tell somebody who can do something about it. If you live in a state that is busy passing laws that hurt public education, call your elected representative and tell him to support public schools and the people who work in them–and not just with nice words. Tell them to stop tearing teachers down. Find out what teachers in your school need, then ask school board members to get it for them. The next time you hear someone claim that schools are failing and teachers stink, speak up. And do these things 52 weeks a year.

But this week? A personal note would be great.

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