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You and Teacher Appreciation Day

Jordan Catapano

When I was in elementary school I used to get excited about bringing my teachers gifts throughout the year. That excitement waned as I aged, and by junior high I scoffed at my mother’s attempt to convince me to bring something for my teachers for Christmas. Of course, now that I’m a high school teacher myself, I think back to those days I spurned the opportunity to thank my teachers and secretly hope my students haven’t developed the same attitude.

With Teacher Appreciation Day here, there’s a part in all us teachers that desires to be overtly recognized for our dedication and sacrifice. Getting showered with gifts and praises would be nice. For some of us this might be a reality, but for others our experience might be anything but.

But I have a different slant on Teacher Appreciation Day than I’ve had in the past, and I want to share that with you. Here are three slightly different ways I try to look at teacher appreciation that have added value and meaning to me in recent years.

1. Student Appreciation Day. But every day is a “student appreciation day,” right? It definitely seems like it when it feels like most of our professional and personal lives are dedicated to enriching our students. But consider this – for all the hard work, challenges, frustrations, achievements, activities, and lessons we engage our students in, there’s something to be said about their efforts, attitudes, and dedication, too.

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I’m not suggesting that every student is deserving of appreciation, but I am saying that on a day that’s meant to be about us, it might be nice to reverse the day and let students know that we appreciate them. We appreciate those who work hard, who treat others with maturity and respect, who set a high standard for their peers to follow, and who have thrived by applying the principles of our instruction.

You can demonstrate your appreciation to students in a variety of ways that suit your character. And remember, you don’t have to appreciate everyone, but just those who in your mind are deserving of recognition. Consider some of these modest gestures:

  • Small gifts or gift cards.
  • An out-of-the-ordinary positive communication with parents.
  • Kind words or encouraging letters.
  • A “free pass” on homework or an activity.
  • An award or certificate and some kind of public recognition.

2. Appreciate Other Teachers. You don’t necessarily have to be on the receiving end to participate in Teacher Appreciation Day. If the day is about appreciating any teachers, then you probably have quite a few people you could proactively show your appreciation for.

  • Your Colleagues: Show your colleagues you appreciate their presence and influence on your career. Tell them you couldn’t do it without them, and share a small gift or memorable card.
  • Your Own Teachers: Did you go to school? It’s never too late to reach back into the past and let those former teachers of yours know that you remember them and remain grateful for their influence on your life. Wouldn’t you like it if a student of yours did the same thing years from now?

3. Look for Real Appreciation from Students. Kids tend to show us appreciation, but not always in the forms that we look for. Often we look for the gifts, the cards, any overt symbol of their admiration. But we might miss the message if we’re looking for the wrong thing. Students might demonstrate their appreciation at odd times, in odd ways.

Look for the way they smile at you, for how they finally apply what you’ve been talking to them about all year, for how they correct themselves the same way you’d correct them, for how they behave just because they know you’d be disappointed if they didn’t, for how they say hello to you outside of the classroom when they don’t have to, and for how they do what you ask them to even when they don’t want to. Those intangibles are what I seek throughout the year. The student might not even notice what they’re doing, but when I recognize the growth or respect a student demonstrates, then I cherish that more than a thousand physical gifts. 

I hope you enjoy your Teacher Appreciation Day and have the opportunity to apply at least one of these perspectives. When you do, it will alter your understanding and application of the meaning of appreciation. So take control, be proactive, and make it the best Teacher Appreciation Day you’ve experienced so far!

What are some of the unique ways you’ve shown or have been shown appreciation as a teacher? Tell us your story in the comments below!

Jordan Catapano is a high school English teacher in a Chicago suburb. In addition to being National Board Certificated and head of his school’s Instructional Development Committee, he also has worked with the Illinois Association of Teachers of English and has experience as a school board member for a private school. You can follow him on Twitter at @BuffEnglish, or visit his website

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