Teachers often play an outsized role in the lives of the children they teach. They support, inspire, motivate and bring learning to life, and their paychecks rarely reflect just how much time and energy they put into their work. Teacher Appreciation Week is a chance for students, parents and administrators to show their thanks.
Here’s some background on the occasion and advice on how to celebrate.
When Is Teacher Appreciation Week?
Teacher Appreciation Week is celebrated the first full week in May. This year it is May 7-12.
"Parents will give gifts, students will write letters and the administration will buy us a special lunch. Typically, our school's parent teacher organization also does something extra special," says Hannah Wilde, a high school teacher at a private school and education blogger in Ohio.
Teachers are not only shown appreciation inside school but outside, too. Local businesses often offer deals and discounts to teachers that week.
What Are Its Origins?
Teachers can credit former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt for laying the groundwork for what would ultimately become Teacher Appreciation Week. In 1953, Roosevelt urged Congress to create a day to recognize educators.
But it didn’t become a national day until March 7, 1980, after the joint lobbying efforts of the National Education Association and some state boards. In 1984, the National Parent Teacher Association designated the first full week of May as Teacher Appreciation Week.
How Do Schools and Parents Observe It?
Many schools hold a week of special events to honor their teaching staff. Teachers can usually expect special breakfasts or luncheons organized by administrators and parents.
"Each year Teacher Appreciation is hosted by the parent teacher association. They come up with some kind of a fun theme that is spread throughout five days," says Christine Weis, a longtime elementary school teacher in Wilmington, Delaware.
This year, she says, the week is themed around baseball, including a "tailgate party" lunch and a "7th Inning Stretch" with coffee, tea and treats.
Parents, through the PTA or PTO, are typically the ones organizing such events. "This year, they are bringing in a flower cart so we can all make our own bouquet to take home, they are buying us lunch from a local restaurant and they have a massage chair coming in for us to use during our planning period," says Wilde.
Josh DeSantis, associate professor of education at York College of Pennsylvania, says when he was an eighth grade social studies teacher for Susquenita School District in Pennsylvania, he used to receive notes of encouragement along with small treats in his teacher mailbox. But it was the special lunches that were most appreciated.
“Cheesy potato casserole, crockpot meatballs and brownies were a welcome respite from the chicken tenders and pizza from the cafeteria I ate most of the year,” says DeSantis.
He says there are many ways for parents to thank teachers during the week.
“One of the most impactful is through your school's PTO. I recommend reaching out to explore how you can be involved,” says DeSantis. “I also recommend nominating excellent teachers for local, state or national teacher awards.”
What to Give Your Child's Teacher
When it comes to individual gifts, teachers say a simple handmade card or note from your child telling them how much they made an impact will be greatly cherished.
"Teachers appreciate any thoughtful gift. The most appreciated gifts are handwritten cards. I have kept many over the years," says Weis.
DeSantis agrees and says many teachers “keep a rainy day file with notes like that to give them a lift when times get tough.”
Donna Whittaker, vice president of curriculum and education at early childhood provider Big Blue Marble Academy in Auburn, Alabama, says many schools and child-care centers have teachers fill out questionnaires about some of their favorite things so parents can provide gifts that will be appreciated and enjoyed by their child's teacher.
However, there are some gifts many teachers say they don’t like. Coffee mugs, tumblers, apples, lotion and generally any item that has a cheesy teacher pun on it are not the most sought-after, educators say.
"Although all gifts are appreciated, what not to gift teachers are candles, mugs, homemade treats and food and bath and body products," says Weis. Many teachers receive those year after year.
But parents and students aren’t the only ones sometimes getting it wrong. The teacher blog Teacher Misery documents real “Worst Gifts from Administration,” which include items like toenail clippers, a sheet of bubble wrap for “stress relief” and a snow globe with pictures of administrators’ faces floating around.
Gift cards are the real winner. Whittaker says since teachers often have limited space or funds, gift cards to shops and restaurants “make nice gifts as they are able to use the cards on what they truly want or need.” Gift cards to Target and Amazon are popular, as are Visa gifts cards.
And, since teachers are known to use their own money to fund supplies for their students, classroom donations are always happily accepted too during Teacher Appreciation Week, educators say.
“The best gifts come from the heart,” Murtaza says.