Five ways to thank a teacher

Updated: Oct 12, 2020

We are down to less than two weeks before Thanksgiving is here, and, as it usually is in November, "thankfulness" seems to be on everyone's hearts and minds. Yes, we should be intentional about thankfulness all year, but there's something about this month that opens doors we usually allow social awkwardness and an aversion to actual feelings keep closed - it's not weird or too touchy-feely to remind your parents about that awesome family vacation you took when you were six or to thank your grandma for teaching you about what it means to be generous. In November, we suck it up, and we say thank you, because deep down, we sort of wish we had the courage to do it in the other eleven months.

On the list of thankless jobs, teachers are consistently at the top. We are fortunate enough to live in a country where public education isn't special, it's expected, and so are teachers who care about our kids and do everything they can to help them be successful. As a result, teachers are often left with little-to-no recognition for the work they do.

Teachers teach because they love the kids, not because they want your praise, BUT that doesn't mean you can't thank them this month (and every other month) with a few things that will remind them they are more than teachers, they are people, and their work matters even when they can't see past the progress reports, curriculum planning, or stacks of ungraded assignments on their desks.

1. Write a letter.

Not a note. Not an email. A full-blown-hand-written-heartfelt-signed-with-sincerly-letter. This will immediately tell a teacher that they mean enough to you to be worth the time it takes to sit down and write about it. You don't have to write a novella -- share one thing you admire about them, or a memory you have from their class, or a way that they've shown you kindness. I guarantee that your letter will not be thrown out in a day, or a week, or even a year. Your words will be kept in a drawer or a binder that the teacher saves for the hardest school days. Your words will remind them why they show up when they're sick and tired and discouraged. Whether you see them every day or you haven't seen them in fifteen years, your words will keep them going.

2. Coffee or Tea.

Let's be real, they drink it (mostly) because of you. Gift cards are an easy way to say "thank you" while also supporting the local businesses in town.

3. Make a Care Package.

Let me be clear: This is for THEM, not for their classroom. This is not a box of supplies (they get those from the school) or a bunch books for their reading corner (a nice gift any other day, but not in this care package). This is a collection of small things to help your teacher practice self-care. What should you put in this, you ask? Here's an example that comes in at just under $20.00. Or $5/person if you ask three friends to join you.

  • $2.99 Face mask (yes, even for the dudes)

  • $1.99 Candy (Not sure what they like? Chocolate. The answer is chocolate.)

  • $5.99 Fancy Pens (That are 100% NOT for students. All teachers love nice pens. It's a thing.)

  • $9.00 Movie pass (preferably with a note attached that says, "please use on cheesy rom-com"

4. Ask them about literally anything other than school.

If you catch a teacher on the right *bad* day, there's a 99.9% chance they'd rather talk about their last dentist appointment than they would about what happened between the hours of 7 a.m. and 4 p.m. They likely did everything they could during their lunch hour and prep time to be able to high-tail it out of the building the moment the clock struck 4. They now have 13 hours to grocery shop, fill their cars with gas, cook dinner, talk to their roommates/spouses, feed their pets, and attempt to dream about something other than their 3rd hour class. Ask them a question about grownup life. Ask them which Avenger would make the best boyfriend or why the heck Ryan Gosling is so attractive. Literally ask them anything that will take their minds off of the school day and will let them be 100% themselves. Which leads me to #5...

5. Treat them like a person. Because they are. (This one is required)

Do not - I repeat - DO NOT place teachers in a separate category in your mind. Just because they chose to teach does not mean they are immune to the angry emails, endless to-do lists, or pressure to increase test scores. They don't have a supernatural ability to make anxiety disappear or to make 3 hours of sleep feel like a full night's sleep (seriously, they wish).

Like every other profession, new teachers enter the field thinking they know what is expected from them. Unlike most professions, when teachers realize how many unexpected responsibilities they will be given, there is an unspoken rule that they can't complain and they can't say "no," because it's "for the kids." This makes them feel guilty for even considering saying no to another supervision, another prep, or another inservice.

You can't change their work load, but you can make the decision to ask them how they're doing. Not how their classes are doing, but how they are doing. Trust me, they will appreciate it more than words can say, because they have most likely forgotten that they're allowed to be people too.

Pick two of them, or all of them, but please, please, please, thank your teachers.

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