Teacher Appreciation Week – Advice from an Ex-Educator

It’s early May, which in high schools across Texas means the final testing push. For the next two weeks, AP testing occurs, but more pressing and stress-inducing than AP exams are the STAAR end-of-course exams. This time a year ago, I was in my eleventh year of teaching high school English. I recall vividly how draining this time of year was for my colleagues and me. With every week that had passed since Spring Break, our teenage scholars grew increasingly deserving of repeated punches to the throat apathetic and whiny, and come testing time, they were OVER IT. I taught at an outstanding, safe school, but even in such a strong campus, the inmates were running the asylum… and if we teachers answered sincerely, 90% or more of us might prefer a sanatorium to the daily grind. (I joked often that caffeine and simple carbs were all that kept me from snapping and winding up on the 6 o’clock news in an orange jumpsuit.) I suspect the exhaustion wasn’t isolated to the secondary ranks; the elementary and middle school staffs were just as drained this time a year ago, and I would bet my home that 99% of teachers feel this way right now as well.

What else falls in early May? Teacher Appreciation Week! While there are a few rock star moms who have been waiting ALL YEAR and crafting precious gifts for their babies’ teachers, most mommies reacted probably the same way I did now that I’m in the SAHM ranks: “Oh $h!t, that’s here already?!?!” We’re just as fatigued.

But

My friends, my time as a teacher compels me to get my act together to appreciate my kindergartener’s teachers and to exhort you to do the same for the teachers in your life. For over eight months now, these teachers have planned lessons, given benchmark tests, attended professional development meetings, handled tornado, lockdown, and fire drills, given more benchmark tests, attended more meetings, served as referees between students, counseled parents, given more tests… you get the idea. And we know they don’t get paid enough…

…but you might not either. If your kids are little, you may feel like it was just last week you gave $10 for Miss So-and-So’s birthday. If your kids are older, you may wonder how the heck you can afford to buy gifts for all 6-7 of your child’s teachers. If your child has special needs, as mine does, you’re looking at 8 people to recognize – and that’s not including the nurse, the principal, etc. But here’s the great thing: you don’t need to spend a lot of money. I promise. What you can do is give a gift your child’s teacher has offered selflessly and constantly all year long: TIME.

After over a decade in the classroom, here are VERY INEXPENSIVE or even FREE things you can do to show your teachers some love:

  • Give him/her a heartfelt, handwritten note of thanks. My desk was strategically messy – to the untrained eye, it looked like a disaster, but there was a method to my madness – but I kept a cute fabric box in which I stored letters students and parents wrote me. On rough days, I would open that box and soak in the words of gratitude and encouragement. Counterpoint: I did NOT keep fully-spent gift cards in that box (though I won’t lie – a $5 Starbucks gift card can turn a crap day a whole LATTE better! Get it?). So my point is this: never underestimate the power of kind words.
  • Email a heartfelt note effusively praising the teacher to her, God, and everybody. From experience I can share that this time of year teachers are exhausted physically, mentally, and emotionally. They’ve spent months giving and giving and giving, and far more often than not, they feel unrecognized and unappreciated by their superiors. So consider that in addition to writing that teacher a note of gratitude, you could write her boss(es) an email singing her praises. (And for heaven’s sake, carbon copy her on it!) A parent did this my second year of teaching, and it meant the WORLD to me. From a career standpoint, I’m convinced it led my principal to see me in a better light and afforded me leadership opportunities I might not have otherwise had. From a personal standpoint, it offered a much-needed affirmation that maybe I was making a difference to at least one kid. At a minimum, you can email your school’s principal. If you want to be particularly amazing, also copy the teacher’s curriculum director, heck, even the Superintendent if you want. Trust me that your child’s teacher will be moved beyond words!
  • Teacher or not, if someone at your child’s school warrants appreciation, do something to show it! As I mentioned previously, my child has special needs, so he has three teachers (two general ed and one special ed); a speech therapist; an occupational therapist; and three para-professionals who support him throughout his day. I would give them all hundreds of dollars if I could, but my new gig as a stay-at-home mom pays $0/year. 🙂 BUT I mention this to call attention to the fact that there are so many people besides teachers who enrich the lives of your children while they’re at school. Don’t forget counselors and principals who are particularly supportive (especially since when they hear from parents, it’s usually complaints). And PLEASE show your thanks to the administrative assistants and office staff members. Where I taught, these were some of the finest ladies you will meet anywhere, and talk about a labor of love, because they are not paid anywhere near commensurate with the value they provide to the campus. So, same rules apply as above – write them personal notes, email their superiors, etc.
  • Don’t knock the healing and restorative power of a $5 gift card. I know not everyone can afford to do this, and that’s okay. But I mention this only because in some places and at some ages, I imagine teacher appreciation feels like another spin in the doom loop that is Pinterest One-Upping. Please don’t worry about that for one second. Not once did I think, “OH MY GOSH, I cannot believe Luke’s mom only gave me a $5 Target gift card when Sally’s mom made me heart-shaped handmade crayons.” My thoughts were more like, “HOT DAMN! FREE TARGET MONEY! WHEEEEEEEEE!” I assure you every teacher feels the same way.

Some closing thoughts on how you can appreciate society’s most noble people:

  • Teacher Appreciation Week is every week. If your child’s teacher does something amazing and it is not at a time typically designated for recognition of gift giving, recognize them anyway. (I went to the Dollar Spot at Target and put together little bags of Halloween pencils for L’s teachers, and they were nerdily excited about it. Ooooh, another tip: teachers loooooooove school and office supplies. A kid would have my heart forever with a set of these pens. *swoon*)
  • Teacher Appreciation Week doesn’t have an expiration date. What I mean is that it is never too late to recognize a teacher. Is your baby about to start high school, and you realize more and more that she writes so well because of that third grade teacher that was persistent in her grammar instruction, even though the kids haaaaaaated it at the time? Are you, now decades away from being in a classroom, seeing what a special person your Calculus teacher was? For heaven’s sake, we have Facebook and Google, the most effective stalking agents of our time. If you don’t know where they are, find them, and write them. When I resigned last summer to stay at home with my kids, a student I had five years earlier sent me a Facebook message: “I just saw that you’re no longer going to be teaching, but I just wanted to say thank you for pushing me and for piquing my interest in writing. I’m sure that I was a little shit. {For what it’s worth: he wasn’t.} Thank you for putting up with me. I know that my passion for writing and communicating would not have come into fruition without your AP English class my senior year and your PAP English class my sophomore year. I just wanted you to know that both you and your teaching style are much appreciated. I wish you all the best!” Best teacher appreciation gift ever. I just cried all over again re-reading it. No matter how many years a teacher is in the classroom, he or she remembers everybody. Don’t underestimate how much a note from yesteryear will mean!
  • Your kids don’t age out of Teacher Appreciation Week. I know it’s hard when kids get older and go from having one teacher to 6+ (and that’s not including coaches, advisors, etc.), but please keep on loving on your kids’ teachers when they are big kids. Trust me. Those teachers need to feel they’re valued just as much, if not more so, than their elementary-school counterparts.
  • You don’t have to age out of Teacher Appreciation Week. Even if your nest is empty, you can still show teachers some love. Volunteer. Be a mentor. If you have money to spare, find out how you can support the campus, either through booster clubs, websites like DonorsChoose.org, or just showing up and ask: how can I help you out? Teachers spend so much of their own money to do things for their students’ benefits. If you’re in a position to help alleviate that burden, they would appreciate it.

In conclusion: RELAX! You don’t need to rush out and buy crafting supplies and/or gift cards! But please do take a little time this week to let the teachers in your life know how much they mean to you and your family! The minutes you take to write your words of gratitude will provide years of encouragement to these special, selfless, talented people!

Something for Me

A little over four months ago, I resigned from an 11-year teaching career to stay at home with my children: my oldest, a son whom I’ll call Monkey, who is 6; and a daughter, whom I’ll call Cat, who is 18-months old. I’ll elaborate on my reasons for that change sooner or later, but I went into the choice with both complete confidence and… well, fear. Because for over a decade, the hat I had worn the longest was not that of a wife or mother, but of a teacher. And while being the best mother I can be for my babies is, without question, the most important job I will ever have, teaching was more to me than a paycheck. Teaching high school English inspired, encouraged, challenged, and moved me like few things ever have and likely ever will. I’m confident I made the right choice leaving the classroom, yet regardless of whether or not I’m employed as one, part of me will always be a teacher.

My choice to resign was fairly impulsive, but I sought advice from some of the stay-at-home moms I knew before writing the letter and making things official. One thing I heard over and over: find something to do for yourself. I thought, rather naively, this wouldn’t be all that difficult. While Cat naps every day and Monkey is at school, I will read. I’ll catch up on my Netflix list. All the house projects will get done. I’ll work out regularly.

It was adorable of me, really. 🙂

About six or seven weeks into the school year (now that summer vacation is over and things are getting real), I’m finding that believing life can be a well-oiled machine WHEN AN 18-MONTH OLD IS INVOLVED is delusional. But, the advice that I need something for myself? Pure wisdom.

This blog is that “something that is yours.” It’s my attempt to make sense of the full, complicated, and wonderful life I lead, even and especially when it feels like all I do is run the dishwasher and tend to a ceaseless cycle of laundry. It’s a way I hope to connect with others, albeit virtually, the way I did when standing in front of a classroom. It’s a place where I’ll write about what’s on my mind, which can span from raising a child with autism, bringing up a girl in a world that terrifies me, learning more about God’s word and applying it to my life, selecting entire NCAA basketball tournament brackets based on which mascots would win were they to fight in real life… because I actually do this every year, and, moreover, this post makes me sound much more serious than I am. I promise I am funny. This blog will have sass and snark to spare.

The last group of kids I taught (high school juniors) gave me a nickname: LRobs. That they felt comfortable enough to do so conveys that my classroom was one that thrived on an air of collegiality and camaraderie (and not, as I fear you may think, that I was the teacher version of Amy Poehler’s character in Mean Girls. I was liked and respected. Promise). I chose to bring that moniker to this blog to commemorate what turned out to be one of the best years of my career and to preserve the teacher part of my identity.

So with that: welcome to my classroom. I’m looking forward to sharing, writing, reading, and learning with you.