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How to Show Appreciation to Teachers

by Emily Horn

Teacher Appreciation Week (TAW) is coming up next week! From May 8-12, 2023, school communities around the U.S. will come together to show appreciation for their teachers. I was surprised to find that Teacher Appreciation Week began in 1953, but it didn’t become a national holiday until 1980. In 1984, it was moved to the first full week of May, and we’ve been recognizing this week ever since.

What Is Appreciation?

From Oxford Languages, the first two definitions provided stand out to me the most. In my opinion, when merged, they provide the best description of true appreciation.

“1. recognition and enjoyment of the good qualities of someone or something.”

“2. a full understanding of a situation.”

Why these two definitions? The first makes no mention of what someone “does.” It doesn’t say, “recognition for someone’s work,” although that is a form of appreciation. This definition makes a much larger implication – it implies appreciation for who someone is as a person. Teachers are people. And they bring much more to the table than raw instructional and classroom management skills. They put their whole selves into the job, often sacrificing their own personal time for their work. That said, teachers deserve to be recognized for more than the work they do. They deserve appreciation for the full depth of the qualities, experience, and knowledge that informs their work, which brings me to the second definition.

"Teachers are people. And they bring much more to the table than raw instructional and classroom management skills. They put their whole selves into the job... They deserve appreciation for the full depth of the qualities, experience, and knowledge that informs their work..."

Gratitude or Appreciation?

What does “a full understanding of a situation” have to do with appreciation? In return, I’ll ask: Can one be truly appreciated if they are not known and understood? To appreciate someone, we must have a profound awareness of the depth, breadth, and scope of their work. If there is no such relationship or understanding, is appreciation devalued? Does it become a gesture lacking in meaning? No, this would be considered showing gratitude. If you give me an Amazon Gift Card or buy me a cup of coffee, I know you are appreciative, grateful, even if you don’t profoundly understand my work or know me well. And therein lies the difference between gratitude and appreciation.

How to Show Teachers Appreciation 

Before joining TCEA in 2021, I was a teacher and a school principal, working in education for a total of 13 years. As I began writing this article, I started to think about the most meaningful gestures of appreciation that I’d received during that time. What defined them? What made them meaningful to me? What did they share? In reflecting on these three questions, I identified three commonalities: The most meaningful gestures I received were specific and personal, which made them feel genuine.

I can tell you with 100% honesty that I still have several stacks (ahem….ok, boxes) of cards, notes, and drawings from students, colleagues, and parents. I even kept emails in a special folder to pull out on tough days. (My husband can totally verify all of this, if anyone reading has doubts.) 

An Example of Written Appreciation

One email that comes to mind was from the mother of a child I taught in preschool and pre-kindergarten. At the time of the email, the child was no longer at my school. But when I was his teacher, his family was going through the process of identifying some significant learning needs, and we were working together on accommodations in the classroom. 

The mom wrote, “Ms. Emily, [student] is now in 4th grade at [school]. I just wanted to write you a quick note to let you know that he is having such a successful year. He is now confidently reading and writing on grade level! I credit this to the strong pre-reading and pre-writing foundation, and the support, he received in your three and four-year-old classes. Thank you for working with us and for fighting for his accommodations and success.” I could have jumped up and down. Actually, I think I did! And then I cried. This email carried me through the rest of the year. I’m not kidding. It was specific. It was personal. It was genuine. 

Sharing specific and personal appreciation

When you write messages like these, you’re not just offering words, you’re offering the time it took you to write them, the thought, and a look into the impact – that’s valuable! And it doesn’t so much matter how you show appreciation as much as it matters that you show it. If you’re not comfortable writing a card, note, or email, you can make a call, swing by while they’re on dismissal duty, or stop by the classroom to say it in person. If you’d like to offer a gift with your words, consider a gift card or certificate, a baked goodie, something handmade, or a favorite treat or beverage. And it doesn’t matter if you’re a student, colleague, principal, or parent, the appreciation will be, well – appreciated!

The Power of Appreciation

Appreciation is most powerful when the appreciator is already actively and regularly caring for, serving, or building a relationship with the appreciatee. To me, if you work with teachers and are part of a school community, to truly appreciate a teacher is to find a way to say, “I recognize the hard work you’re doing. The sacrifices you’re making. The ways in which you are underserved. I see and acknowledge your impact. I understand the challenges you face. I know you as a person, and I respect you as a person. I hear you. I see you. I value you.” This type of appreciation is powerful. It goes beyond “Your work matters,” and pushes into, “You matter.”

"This type of appreciation is powerful. it goes beyond "Your work matters," and pushes into, "You matter."

So take a moment to express, in a genuine, personal, and specific way, how a teacher has impacted you, the school, or your child specifically. Making an impact is why teachers do what they do. So hearing about specific successes and effects of their work is the best reward ever. And don’t just share appreciation during Teacher Appreciation Week. Do it regularly!

Educators, what’s something you’ve received during Teacher Appreciation Week, or anytime, that’s made you feel appreciated and valued? Leave your experiences and ideas in the comments. We’d love to hear what makes you feel appreciated most. 

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