We asked teachers how they like to be shown appreciation, and the general consensus is that they don't need to be thanked. But when they are, it means a lot.
"I absolutely love my job as a second grade teacher. My students make each day wonderful in their own little ways," says Aimee Brenn of Boston. "But when parents show appreciation for my work and dedication, I feel rewarded in ways that my words cannot truly express. It's those little forms of validation that make teaching such a remarkable profession."
Beyond a simple, heartfelt "thank you," these ideas can help your child's teacher feel the love.
The teachers we talked to said personalized letters and cards were by far the most rewarding ways to be thanked. But forget the generic store-bought cards -- take time to write something personal. Even better: Get your child involved. You both can write what you liked about the teacher and his or her class.
"A simple note can make me melt!" says Lori Slates Vance, a second grade teacher in Macdonald, Pennsylvania. "My most treasured gift was from a student and her mom. The student wrote me a letter that told me how she liked being in my class. Mom wrote about how her daughter had improved and grown that year."
"If the cards are personalized, it would be something to hold onto forever," agrees teacher Katherine Mottola, of Marshfield, Massachusetts. "A child once wrote 'I love when Mrs. Mottola reads us silly stories.' Another child wrote 'I like Mrs. Mottola because she smiles at me.' So simple but so touching. It's the little things that make the job so fulfilling."
If you want to make a grand gesture, consider going in on something with the rest of the students' parents -- and it doesn't have to cost a thing.
"One year, my class's room mother contacted all the other parents and sent out papers for each of my students to complete, telling me about their favorite experiences throughout the year and what it meant to have me as their teacher," says Brenn. "The papers were then compiled and laminated in a book for me, with each student's picture and writing. I will always cherish the time and effort that went in to creating that special keepsake."
Grand gestures during holidays and special dates are fine, but the teachers we spoke with emphasized that they like to feel appreciated year-round -- and one of the biggest ways is by getting involved with class activities.
"Take a day off work and devote your time," suggests Brenn. "Be a mystery reader; help with a craft or science project; be a chaperone on a field trip."
Can't take time off work? Donate some supplies to the classroom; many teachers end up purchasing some of these out of their own pockets, so helping them stock up on tissues and crayons -- or a bigger ticket item, like the electric pencil sharpener that Brenn was gifted one year by some class parents -- can be a huge relief.
Helping with supplies helps teachers save some of their own money, of course, but it also makes them feel appreciated, knowing parents and students have really listened and paid attention to their needs and wants.
Michelle Holmes, a preschool and pre-kindergarten teacher in Plano, Texas, and her colleagues once each received chair massages as gifts -- and she loved hers. Before Brenn's wedding, her class's parents threw her a surprise bridal shower. Teachers work hard, and to show them you know that, consider something that makes them feel special or pampered.
Sounds pricey? It doesn't have to be. For many teachers, a hot lunch might be all it takes to feel like they're indulging. "Our lunch block is never long enough to leave to go get food, and it's usually filled with tasks like making copies, using the restroom, and returning emails," says Karen Mensing, a first and second grade teacher in Phoenix. "Contact the teacher in advance to check for allergies and preferences, and swoop in at lunchtime with a burger, salad, or slice of pizza and beverage. It's a treat every teacher I know would relish!"
If you want to buy your child's teacher a token of appreciation but you don't know what to get, you really can't go wrong with a gift card.
"If they feel the need to buy me something, I like gift cards to some place I can use," says Leon Scott Baxer, a third grade teacher in Santa Barbara, California. "One year, parents pooled their finances got me a $100 gift card to a teaching supplies store. I was stunned and so very appreciative."
As for gifts themselves, the teachers all downplayed their importance -- they were much more enthusiastic about the previously mentioned ideas (and, trust us, they've got enough candles, lotions, and "#1 Teacher" coffee mugs already).
You're better off buying or making something more meaningful. "I have incredible pictures that my students spent hours on decorating my walls," says Baxter. "We love creative projects that make us remember our kids even 20 years later and that we can tell were made from love."
At Holmes's school, during Teacher Appreciation Week one year, each teacher was given a vase, and each student brought a flower to put in it -- they formed a beautiful arrangement. Another idea: Have each child bring the teacher a piece of fruit to fill a basket. Or have each kid bring a plant for the school garden.
However you choose to show your appreciation, remember this: "It's not about the amount of money," says Baxter. "For many of us, if there's heart behind the gift or if it's something that we can truly use, we will talk about it for years."