Monday, June 3, 2013

Teacher Appreciation Week—a story of failure with the possibility of success

Teacher Appreciation Week. 

I don't know how things roll in your part of the land, but around here, in North Carolina, Teacher Appreciation Week is tightly controlled. There is a theme for each day of the week and you are to do something or purchase something that goes with that theme. If you have a teacher's assistant (Shaemus does), you have to get something for the teacher's assistant too, and every class has been assigned a specialist they are supposed to take care of for Teacher Appreciation Week as well. 

I only have three kids in school right now. Just three. But I have seven teachers I am supposed to get something for or make something for every single day during Teacher Appreciation Week. 

That equals thirty-five gifts. 

This a problem for me, mostly because I am not a gift person. I don't think much about gifts for myself or for others. Also, I don't like making things. And I really don't like craft stores. Or shopping (except for books). I admire people who do those things. I wish I were one of them, but there is something deep inside my root structure (?) that prevents me from being that kind of person.

This is also a financial problem for me. I could easily shell out fifty dollars per teacher for a grand total of $350. 

I know why Teacher Appreciation Week exists. Teachers deserve our thanks and recognition since they get so little of it throughout the year. They sacrifice so much every day and night as they work and grade and prepare. I get that, and I agree with it. This is important.

But Teacher Appreciation Week seems to me to have turned a little into the science fair project that the parent (with the best of intentions) does for their kid. Or a way of easing our guilt for how little we did during the year by slipping out our credit card. 

My first grader cannot go out and buy a long-stemmed rose for Wednesday, his teacher's favorite coffee for Thursday, etc... He cannot do any of those things on his own. Not only that, where's the creativity? Why don't we say, "Teacher Appreciation Week is coming up. What would you like to do for your teacher to show your appreciation?"

Gift cards are wonderful, and I'm sure the teachers absolutely love them, but when I lived at home with my mom who is a teacher, mugs and candy and coasters and pencils galore would pile up on our counter following Teacher Appreciation Week until they were either stolen by my brother or myself or thrown away. 

One year, a long time ago, we were on such a tight budget, I couldn't afford to do anything more for Lucy's teacher other than make cookies and send in a note. This note was very personal and very sincere—I adored this teacher and was sure I wouldn't see the likes of her again (I have twice, however!). She approached me in tears a few days later to thank me. She said the gifts are nice, of course, but how rare it is to get a heartfelt note. She'd only received one other letter from a parent her entire seven years in teaching.

I've only done a letter a few times since then, but I am writing this post to remind myself as this year closes that it's okay to skip Teacher Appreciation Week and really show my appreciation for my children's teachers by doing something a little more meaningful. 

First of all, I told Shaemus and Lucy that they were in charge of thanking their teachers however they wished to do it. Both of them made cards and gave their teachers a plate of cookies (that their sister made). Their cards were written from their hearts with no input from me. And Shaemus even gave his teacher a one dollar bill. (Pretty hysterical—I thought it was even funnier that she accepted it)

Even as I write this, I feel guilty about ignoring Teacher Appreciation Week, but I'm determined to write those notes before the year closes. I'm determined to be sincere and tell these teachers in specific language the good things they have done for my children. I'm going to ignore the darlingly crafted gifts the other mothers have made in duplicate and given to all their children's teachers (I admire those gifts, but cannot do them), and do what I can do in the best way I know how. 

And that's going to have to be okay.

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