What’s the number one gift request on teachers’ lists this school year? Well, it’s affordable (free), thoughtful and can be given often.
It’s a thank you. That’s it.
“I absolutely love when students write thoughtful thank you notes," said Alee Cotton, an English teacher at Marian High School in Omaha.
Cotton added that it’s even better when students include those thank yous on their senior pictures, promising to keep in touch and keep her updated on their lives.
Emails or notes to a teacher even years later make a difference. When we hear “thank you,” it validates why we are in the profession. We don’t do it for the coffee mugs, the lure of school supplies or the paycheck.
We do it to make a difference in the lives of young people.
Joy Kirr, a language arts teacher in Arlington Heights, Illinois, received a canvas painting from a student last year that said, “It’s not about the grade; it’s about the learning.”
Knowing the student was listening to her words and that they made an impact was a remarkable gift for Kirr.
Teachers often receive little trinkets of appreciation. I’ve enjoyed a few bites of chocolate, coffee gift cards (yes, many teachers love and need caffeine) and will gladly accept donations of school supplies (dry erase markers for the win)!
Like any teacher, I am very grateful for any token of appreciation a parent or student gives. However, the coffee gift cards are used, the markers have long since dried up and the chocolate has taken permanent residency on my hips.
The things I have kept close to my heart (and in my files) are the notes, cards and emails where a student or parent took the time to say thank you.
I still have the message in the yearbook from a student who hated writing, but at the end of the year wrote a paragraph thanking me for believing in him.
When the challenging days come, I will go back to the email from a former student who thanked me for always knowing the right thing to say and just “getting her.”
For years to come, I will read the card from a parent of a shy, struggling student thanking his teachers for everything we did to help her son succeed.
Ask any teacher why they entered the profession, and they can probably think back to at least one influential educator in their own life as a student.
For me, it was my high school literature teacher who taught me a love of reading and what it meant to conduct yourself with respect and professionalism. It was my junior high English teacher who taught me about publishing and made me want to become a writer. It was my high school journalism teacher who taught me the power of words and when to keep my mouth shut. It was my college English professor who saw a sophomore who didn’t really know where my life was leading and made me believe in myself and my writing.
I’ve thanked these teachers and others over the years. They have made me the teacher I am today, and I hope I can say I have meant to my students at least even a small portion of what these teachers have meant to me.
So, when you are shopping for teacher gifts this school year, know that we love anything you throw in the cart, but the card with the note, the email sent anytime of the year and the verbal “thank you for making a difference” means more than anything we could ask for.
Jen Schneider is a middle school teacher and mom to two children.