K-8 teachers devote their days in and out of the classroom year-round to enriching student instruction. When schools transitioned to online learning in the face of the coronavirus pandemic, teachers around the country took on the challenge and adapted to meet their students' needs.
Teacher Appreciation Week, which is May 3-7 this year, is an opportune time to celebrate 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. Parents can consider these tips to help their children plan a sentimental digital thank-you, send a handwritten note or organize something with the school's PTA.
Ways to Thank a Teacher at a Distance
Thanking a teacher can still be personal without being in person. Whether a child is attending school virtually, in the classroom or a combination of the two, there are plenty of ways to honor K-8 teachers and school staff while respecting health and safety regulations.
Organize a virtual in-class surprise. When fourth and fifth grade teacher Alejandro Diasgranados received the District of Columbia's 2021 Teacher of the Year award, his students surprised him in their virtual classroom by holding up handmade signs with heartfelt messages.
"They wrote down all of these things that they wanted to thank me for: Memories that we had in the classroom; field trips that we had gone on; moments, even throughout this year, (when) I was helpful and supportive," Diasgranados says.
Record a thank-you video. Parents can craft a personal thank-you message with their child or collaborate with other families to share favorite memories from the past year. The child can create a sign, draw a picture or throw confetti to show appreciation on video. Music and photos from the school year can also be added to create something the teacher will cherish for years to come.
Email a digital gift card. "Teachers have to have their cup full before they can start pouring into others'," Diasgranados says. Parents looking for a helpful gesture that teachers can use to support themselves outside of the classroom may want to consider digital gift cards. Think coffee, books and self-care -- there is a gift card for almost anything.
Mail or drop off the gift. For parents who have the teacher's address or are able to drop off a gift at the school, delivering food or flowers with a thank-you note is a simple but effective offering. For those who want to give something that supports a teacher's work, planners and notebooks to keep track of busy schedules will likely be welcomed, Diasgranados says. And for a gift that often lasts even longer, consider giving a plant that will grow and stay with the teacher as a reminder of how far their students have come in their education.
Post a social media shout-out. Another option for parents is to share a photo or video from the past year on social media, tag the teacher and school, and write a caption with a memorable story highlighting the teacher's value in their child's life. Parents can mention their child's favorite lesson learned this year or include photos of a project enjoyed in class. To spread the word, add #ThankATeacher -- promoted by the National PTA for Teacher Appreciation Week -- so that others can discover what makes the teacher great.
Write a Teacher Thank-You Note
Beyond the ideas noted above, parents can never go wrong with a handwritten note.
"The best gifts are kid-made gifts," says Juliana Urtubey, Nevada's 2021 Teacher of the Year. She recommends giving a handmade card adorned with a student's drawings and filled with special memories, including the student's favorite learning moments.
Urtubey says she always enjoys reading the "things that made them feel seen" in the classroom. Thank-you notes from students highlight simple acknowledgments that may normally go unnoticed, 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 the teacher's acts of kindness, big and small, like when a teacher spends extra time to help a child with math homework or supports a student in the virtual classroom while they are tied up at work.
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. There is always someone who can translate it, and 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.
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.
PTAs regularly organize initiatives to support teachers and school staff throughout the year. Tiffany Foster of North Carolina, president of the Durham Council of PTAs, says this year the group will partner with local food vendors to provide snacks, breakfast and lunch for teachers and staff.
As more students begin to return to the classroom in person, some PTAs are organizing protective supply drives for Teacher Appreciation Week. "We'll be donating 175 gift bags with sanitizer, cleaning supplies and face masks, just so we know that our teachers feel like they're safe," Foster says.
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 plan car parades, 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, "because they do what they do not because it's their career or it's their job -- it's because they love children."
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