As my daughter gets ready to start Kindergarten this fall, I've been reflecting on the special teachers in her life thus far and looking forward to those we have yet to meet.
What a special gift our educators have! I have a lot of patience, but I still watch in wonder at all the love and energy these teachers pour out each day with such grace and authenticity. I could not do it. BUT I'm so glad there are special people in the world that can.

Those who have taken care of, taught and loved my kids have no clue just how much they are appreciated. I started thinking about this and found myself really curious to know what makes a teacher feel appreciated. They can't possibly want one more hand-made craft or bouquet of pencils or other Pinterest fail, right?

What can we do as parents (alongside our children) to make sure our teachers know we appreciate them?

I decided to do some research of my own. I reached out to nearly every teacher I know and asked them to tell me what makes them feel appreciated. The response was eye-opening for me and I wanted to share my findings. This exercise has definitely given me some great ideas and I hope you find value in it as well.

Lindsey is entering her 12th year of teaching 1st grade this fall.

She immediately squashed my preconceived notion that teachers are tired of getting handmade stuff...

I think the most important thing to remember is thoughtful instead of expensive. Homemade treats, favorite snacks, a sonic drink, cards with kind & encouraging words, handmade keepsakes from kiddos (canvases, fingerprint art, flower pots, etc.) are always big hits. -Lindsey

This [ABOVE] is the keepsake I got this year with all the kids' fingerprints. I have several different versions of these that I display in my classroom to remember each class. - Lindsey

This [ABOVE] was an awesome end of the year gift. One of my moms secretly coordinated with the other parents and collected gift cards over the last couple weeks of school. Then at the end of the year party, they presented me with a gift card bouquet. I have really enjoyed spending those this summer (and sending sweet thank yous to the kiddo/family it was from). -Lindsey

Here are a couple examples [BELOW] of the things I got during teacher appreciation week. Most of them were small but thoughtful gifts/treats. Just knowing that parents were appreciative and made the effort to let me know was awesome! -Lindsey
Lindsey also keeps a "Wall of Encouragement" [BELOW] where she keeps notes from parents and co-workers on the inside of her classroom cabinets.
Lindsey is also a mom and had a great idea for getting to know your child's teacher better - a "Favorites" sheet. This is just a simple form that asks the teacher to share some of their favorites (snacks, hobbies, etc.). Here's one I found on Pinterest.

Just acknowledging and appreciating the time, effort, and love a teacher pours into your child (and the other 24 kids) and making her/him feel like you have their back goes a long way! -Lindsey

Thank you, Lindsey! These are great ideas.

Missy has been teaching for 32 years. She is currently a Middle School Special Education teacher.

Missy had a great perspective on the topic. She didn't really speak of a physical gift, but rather the actions of a parent. Her response was sincere and thoughtful:

The best gift a parent can give to their child's teacher is their support toward their child's success in our classroom. I know this sounds cheesy and cliche but to me this would be the greatest gift that keeps on giving in many ways.

During the Middle School years, a parent tends to drop out of the picture compared to what they did for their child at the elementary level. To me, this is the crucial time to be visible at school anyway possible - volunteering to copy, help the nurse, support the classroom teacher anyway possible, volunteer in the library and the list could go forever.

The middle school years are the most challenging times for a young person due to a child starting to follow the temptation of their peers' opinions over their parents.

Lastly, one other gift would be when a parent gives 100% support to a teacher's lead in their classroom by staying in positive communication when a concern or problem arises with their child. Don't be afraid to ask questions and educate yourself as a parent. There is no greater gift to a teacher than to see the pride in a child's eyes that their parents care about their education. -Missy

Wow, right? Well said, Missy. Thank you.

Brandy is a stay-at-home mom of three, but previously spent 15 years in childcare (pre-k for two of those years).

She had some great thoughts on the topic and they surprisingly (or maybe not?) echoed Missy's sentiments above.

Honestly, I don't think that it's anything you can purchase. Things are nice and sweet, but I think that the simple support day-to-day, enthusiasm to help when needed, and working as a team for their child was what made me feel the most appreciated. I have gifts from parents that barely spoke to me, but the parents that came in everyday, asked how my life was, and what they could do for their children are the ones that I remember well and still have relationships with.

If I had to pick gifts that stood out, I would have to pick thoughtful things. I had a pre-K mom that was an art teacher so she had the kids put their thumbprints on a cookie jar, painted it, fired it, and it now sits on my kitchen counter.

As a parent buying gifts, I've tried to do simple things like take coffee and donuts for special treats regularly, and organized a class gift of visa gift cards so they can spend it however they choose.

Most of all, teachers get a bad rap. They have to be the bearer of bad news, or send home bad grades. Most parents either ignore it, or question the teacher at every turn. Don't get me wrong, some teachers need to be questioned, but most don't. They don't get the credit for all the little things they do - like all the hugs, kind words, endless hours preparing, lessons and a warm environment for the kids. -Brandy

That last part really resonated with me. My husband used to coach and teach at a middle school and he dealt with (or had fellow teachers that dealt with) the "my child can't do wrong" parents ALL THE TIME. I appreciate that perspective and will always carry it with me.

Serena is entering her 5th year of teaching 1st grade.

I am always grateful for anything I receive, especially if it’s obvious that the student picked it out themselves. Many students try to pick things out that they know I will love - mainly because its green, or has polka dots or owls (They know me very well!)

Of course gifts are lovely and always appreciated, but showing appreciation doesn’t have to cost money or happen just during teacher appreciation week! Simple cards or letters from students and parents put a big smile on my face. As a teacher, I love to hear from parents about good things they see happening with their child at school, and not just their concerns. Positive notes are few and far between and getting a few more every year would certainly help me feel more appreciated!

If parents want to buy a small gift for a teacher, I suggest they ask their child for suggestions! They really do notice everything about us…our favorite color, animal, food, what we like to drink, etc. My students could even tell you my favorite pens to use!

Some of my favorite tokens of appreciation have been a set of new colorful pens, small gift cards to places my students know I like, and a bottle of my favorite soda brought to me on a random day. -Serena

Serena shared some of her favorite gifts below:
To summarize:
  • Making a teacher feel appreciated doesn’t have to cost money.
  • Positive communication is always welcome and they don’t get it nearly enough.
  • Be involved, whether that’s volunteering to help the teacher or simply partnering with them in the education of your child.
  • Regarding physical tokens of appreciation - thoughtful and/or sentimental gifts are the best.

I had many more responses, so I thought I’d break this post in two parts! Stay tuned for part two.

And please share other ideas you may have! I will add them to my teacher appreciation arsenal.