Every year, during the first week in May, we take some time to honor the men and women who give their passion, talents and time to educate our children. Too often, this dedication goes unappreciated, so something as simple as a warm smile and a sincere “thank you” can make a teacher truly feel valued.
I remember my first Teacher Appreciation Day many moons ago. I was a new teacher in one of the lowest performing schools in New York City—a serious challenge for someone so young, naive and inexperienced. But I had the willpower and dedication to do whatever it took to teach every one of my students, and infuse our lessons with fun, laughter and nurturing love.
So towards the end of my first challenging school year, all the veteran teachers gathered in the teacher’s lounge whispering about this special week in May when we would get treated like royalty. I remember thinking, “why do we need a day? Do patients and hospitals celebrate doctor appreciation day?”
Finally the day came, and my principal gave everyone a personalized “Teachers Are in a Class By Themselves” thermos with a Dunkin’ Donuts gift card. There was no fanfare, no flowers or even a teacher luncheon. The students made heartfelt handwritten cards—the old-fashioned way—with construction paper, markers, glue, glitter and stickers. That was Teacher Appreciation Day.
Now some 15 years later, Teacher Appreciation Day has become an entire week-long celebration! In some schools across America, administrators and parents go all-out giving gifts and gift cards. Some celebrations include a full spread for breakfast or lunch, complete with parent-volunteers dressed in aprons and chef’s hats to serve the teachers.
Once I made that crossover from teacher to full-time mom, I vowed I would be that parent that I wish I had as a teacher; the one who appreciated her children’s teachers all year round and not just during that one week in May.
Aside from the tangible gifts that some teachers appreciate, like classroom supplies and snacks for the break room, I gave my time and the extra pair of helping hands every teacher seems to need. I copied, cut, folded, organized, filed and laminated.
When I was a full-time teacher, what I valued more than anything was a real “prep period,” where I could just exhale after a challenging class or having one weekend where I could perhaps hit the gym, take a yoga class or read a book for pleasure, instead of taking home hours of work to grade or projects to prep.
Many of today’s dedicated teachers spend endless hours on the weekends and during school breaks, doing work. So I felt it was my duty to help make the lives of my sons’ teachers a little bit easier, starting with the first day of school and stretching through to the “official” Teacher Appreciation Week.
One year our class decided they wanted to do something more special for my son’s teacher who was from California. She didn’t have the money to fly home to see her parents for any of the major holidays that school year because, like many teachers, she had tons of school loans to repay on top of money she spent in her classroom. We decided to really show our deepest appreciation with “the gift of wings.”
One parent donated their frequent flyer miles and all of the other parents in our class chipped in to give our teacher a first-class round-trip ticket home to California for the summer. When we gave her our Teacher Appreciation Day gift that year, we brought her favorites for lunch and gave her a card. When she opened the card, read our heartfelt sentiments of gratitude and then saw the plane ticket, her tears started flowing uncontrollably.
Through her sniffles she told us she never felt more appreciated than she did that school year. Even though the communal gift was a grand gesture, it was the gift of volunteering our time that truly made her feel valued and allowed her crazy life as a young New York City teacher to have some sanity and balance.
It really has felt good over the years, being the “parent from heaven” and showing my sons’ teachers through my service that I respect, value and appreciate them. I hope sharing some of these experiences will inspire other parents to start appreciating teachers—in ways large and small—from the very first day of school.