It’s teacher appreciation week!  Time to say thank you to the tireless individuals who challenge the minds of our little ones, support them both academically and socially, and inspire them to think big about their future.

How are you going to show your appreciation?

Parent Co asked a handful of teachers – from preschool to high school – to tell us what some of their most meaningful teacher appreciation gifts have been over the years.  We invited them to tell us not only about the “things” that students and parents have given them, but the other gifts of words, time, or thoughts that have meant something to them.  So before you buy that “World’s Greatest Teacher” mug check out what teachers have to say about the best gifts they have received.

1 | Thank you notes

This simple solution was mentioned by almost every teacher we talked to –genuinely being thanked for their work.  “I do feel that at times parents spend way too much on their child’s teacher and completely miss what teachers actually appreciate most, a simple thank you.  When parents thank teachers for their work with their child it really means a lot.

This is especially true when they use examples of specific things the teacher did, such as a learning activity or project their child really enjoyed or growth that they have seen in their child.”  Handwritten pictures and notes from children are equally valued for their simplicity and thoughtfulness.

2 | Memory jar

Taking the thank you note idea to the next level, one teacher told us how a room mother gathered comments on the best memories that kids and parents had of their time together in the classroom.  She put them on separate sheets of paper and stuffed them into a jar for the teacher to take out and read.

“The memory that is still taped to my desk is a handwritten note from a student that says ‘when I crushed my spelling test.’ This student used to tell me that he was going ‘to crush this’ when he thought he was going to do a good job. This message spread to the rest of the class…it became a motto!”

3 | A donation in the teacher’s honor

One teacher mentioned that he liked to “pay it forward” by inviting parents to make a donation to a charitable organization that he supports in lieu of shopping for a gift.

“In the past, I have sent a note out prior to gift time thanking families for their generosity and suggesting charitable organizations they could support in lieu of traditional gifts. I make it very clear that there is NO pressure for any gifts at all, but many families have expressed thanks- a gift in a teacher’s name is a little less stressful than determining a ‘thoughtful’ gift!”

4 | Your time as a volunteer

“I don’t know if this counts as a gift,” one teacher said, “but it’s great when parents can come into the classroom and do a special activity, share their knowledge about a specific subject with the class, or just help out.”

Teachers have a lot of planning to do every day to keep our kids engaged; if we have something to contribute we can lighten their load even just for an hour.  Do this just once and you’ll have a newfound appreciation for how much work it takes to keep a group of kids interested and paying attention for an hour much less a whole day!

5 | Build a bouquet

If you can get the whole class on the same page, have each child bring the teacher one flower.  Put them together and the teacher has a beautiful bouquet for her desk or to bring home.  This group gift reminds her of each kid in the class without cluttering her desk (or a drawer at home) with a bunch of separate gifts.

6 | Lunch break

This takes a bit more planning, but a couple of teachers have had parents bring them a special lunch during teacher appreciation week.

“The greatest ‘Teacher Appreciation’ event ever was when a group of parents came in before our lunch period, decorated our team’s break room with flowers and table cloths (!), and served us lunch during our lunch break. Parents actually served the sandwiches and beverages while we all chatted.  I think the monetary cost was minimal (donated flowers and multiple parents chipping in on food) but the impact of “getting away” in the middle of the day was amazing.  I think this happened three years ago and we still talk about that amazing lunch not infrequently.”

Heads up – there are also a few things that teachers quietly and politely said we could discourage.

Gift cards are nice if they are for places where teachers actually shop, but a pile of gift cards to a big chain coffee shop doesn’t do much good if the teacher prefers to go to their local coffee shop.  Likewise, teachers get a lot of candles and mugs.  There are only so many candles they can burn in a given year.  The caveat – a homemade candle made by your child from your own beeswax was a noted exception (possibly because this author raises bees and the teacher was a friend).

The lesson here is this – while teachers appreciate your gifts, they don’t want you to spend loads of money on gifts that won’t get a lot of use or aren’t from the heart.  They remember the gifts that make them feel special, help them to take a “time out” from the stress of their work, and reinforce the value of the time they spend with our kids.