Teacher Appreciation: 9 Ways To Celebrate

Show your school's teachers some love with these parent-group-tested appreciation ideas.

by Patty Catalano


Whether you’re looking for new ideas for Teacher Appreciation Week (the first week of May every year) or just need a few ways to surprise teachers and staff any old day, we have you covered. These teacher appreciation ideas from PTOs can make your school’s faculty members feel rewarded and reenergized.

Help Teachers With Tasks

Teacher appreciation doesn’t have to cost a lot. Here’s an inexpensive way to give teachers something very valuable: time. Create coupons for teachers to redeem with your PTO for things such as covering lunch duty or updating a bulletin board. The idea is to give teachers an opportunity to grab a breather during the school day. Write a catchy note detailing what your PTO is offering and when teachers can collect, then place it in their mailboxes. Some tasks parents could take on include:

  • copying and collating classroom materials
  • covering recess duty (use the “Get out of Recess Duty” cards on the ptotoday.com File Exchange)
  • covering bus, car pool, or drop-off duty
  • creating displays of student artwork or projects

Make Coffee Readily Available

Another way to help teachers get through long days is to upgrade the break room coffeemaker. The Fields Memorial School PTO in Bozrah, Conn., purchased a single-cup coffee brewer for teachers. The PTO now supplies boxes of coffee “pods” to use with the machine. Teachers can quickly help themselves to a cup of their favorite coffee rather than waiting for a whole pot to brew.

50+ teacher appreciation ideas, plus planning tools, flyers, and more

Get Artsy With Student Projects

A group project that incorporates students’ artwork, fingerprints, or handprints can make an adorable keepsake gift for teachers. (Hint: Ask around at school to see whether there are parents skilled in ceramics, painting, sewing, etc.) Enlist the help of a classroom parent or other volunteer who knows the teacher’s schedule to coordinate the project when the teacher will be out of class.

Items that could be painted or embellished into masterpieces include deck chairs, waste baskets, umbrellas, mirrors, classroom storage cabinets, and stepladders. One classroom mom sent quilt blocks to students and parents, who decorated the material together using colored fabric markers. The blocks were then joined together and made into a lap quilt for the teacher by a mom who sewed.

Help With End-of-Year Cleanup

Consider holding an end-of-year luncheon on an early dismissal day during the last week of school. Coordinate food and drink to energize teachers while they are packing up their classrooms. Wish them a happy summer with gifts along the lines of cleaning supplies, moving boxes, or storage bags. You might also arrange for a team of students to carry items to teachers’ cars.

Provide Classroom Assistance

Ask the principal whether teachers could use some classroom assistance while they take care of other work. The Longbranch Elementary PTO in Midlothian, Texas, arranges for more than 30 parent volunteers to sub in the classroom four times a year. They carry out instructions provided in advance while the teachers attend grade-level meetings or try out classroom experiments.

Smaller-scale efforts can make a big difference for teachers, too. Start by checking with your school’s principal to see whether your volunteers can help correct or grade assignments.

Put Together Some Extra Prizes

A sure way to add some excitement to Teacher Appreciation Week is to hold drawings and let teachers choose their own prizes. One PTO asks room parents to coordinate item donations for themed baskets, such as chocolate, gardening, or movies. Students and parents put together the baskets. During the week, leaders draw names from a hat and announce the winners during morning announcements. Teachers come down to the main office and pick the basket that they like.

Provide Meals on Conference Days

Preparing food to sustain teachers throughout the long hours of parent-teacher conferences is a great way to show support. Send out a sign-up sheet in advance (such as this hospitality volunteer sign-up form), asking parents to bring their food items to the school early on their chosen day.

Many parent groups cater meals for teachers. Another option is to provide snacks that they can munch on in the break room or in the classroom. Longbranch PTO leaders operate a treat trolley; parents bring in homemade goodies and the items are carted around to teachers in their classrooms.

Leaders of the Shoreland Elementary Parent Club in Toledo, Ohio, prepare a large wicker laundry basket of goodies, drinks, and assorted protein-filled snacks for parent-teacher conferences. Teachers can also find string cheese and cold drinks in the refrigerator. “The teachers [and] staff snack all day long, and it helps keep their energy levels up, too!” says parent group member Andrea Aricchi.

Some other nutritious and energy-boosting snacks your group could offer teachers include cereal bars, fruit smoothies, nuts (if allowed), trail mix, and fresh fruits such as bananas, apples, or pre-peeled orange sections.

Put a New Twist on Lunch

If your group is already planning a teacher luncheon, think about adding some special touches to the event. One parent group arranged for a pianist to play throughout the meal and for a local licensed massage therapist to offer chair massages. Another PTO served an Asian-inspired buffet; one mom prepared homemade fortune cookies stuffed with paper “fortunes.” The fortunes contained heartfelt messages about the importance of teachers and education.

If your teachers are chocolate lovers, wow them with a decadent dessert station. (Hint: This makes a perfect Valentine’s Day surprise.) Your group can purchase a few inexpensive chocolate fountains and ask parents to donate the chocolate, strawberries, pretzels, graham crackers, and marshmallows. (Fondue sets work, too.)

Hold a Gala Event

The Cecilton (Md.) Elementary PTO took inspiration from a children’s book in developing its 2010 Teacher Appreciation Week activities. PTO leaders based their theme on Have You Filled a Bucket Today? by Carol McCloud, which teachers had used to introduce students to the concept of doing good deeds for others. “I wanted [the teachers] to feel deeply appreciated for the specific impact they have made on specific children at the school and deeply appreciated for the energy they pour into the profession,” says former PTO president Jennifer Long.

The week of appreciation activities culminated in a banquet called “Night of Inspiration and Appreciation.” The PTO invited teachers by sending them sugar cookies marked with a save-the-date message. During a four-hour celebration at the fire department banquet hall, teachers enjoyed food and drinks and watched a series of videos showing student testimonials that Long had recorded and assembled in advance. A live band called Pencils Down, which includes several teachers, performed for the crowd. Some community members gave inspirational speeches, as well. Long decoupaged and personalized more than 50 buckets for teachers; the buckets were used as centerpieces and placed next to smaller buckets filled with star-shaped candy.

The total cost for the night was $5,000, but community donations brought the PTO’s net expenses down to $1,000. “We beat the street and pulled out all of the stops,” Long says. The fire department donated use of the banquet hall, and the band and speakers performed free of charge. The caterer provided the food at cost. Each teacher and a guest attended for free, but other attendees paid an admission fee. The PTO also sold raffle tickets for several prizes donated by local businesses.

Lots of hard work went into making the event successful, but “the inspiration provided that night was top-notch,” Long says. “It was so worth it.”

The bucket theme was carried into this school year at Cecilton. Hooks for the teachers’ buckets were installed outside every classroom. Staff members use them to provide notes or treats for each other. Says Long, “The principal and assistant principal have been known to drop chocolate in the buckets!”

Teacher Appreciation Tips

Recognize all staff members. That includes the principal and administrative staff, custodians, the school nurse, adjustment counselors, reading specialists, the computer/media room attendant, the librarian, and others.

Spread your appreciation efforts over the year. An end-of-year lunch is great, but teachers need consistent messages of support from parents all through the year. Meaningful recognition doesn’t have to cost a lot. In honor of teachers, consider collecting poems written by students, making special announcements over the PA system, or decorating the bulletin board.

Be mindful of teachers’ time. Your group might want to plan a two-hour assembly and sit-down breakfast as part of Teacher Appreciation Week, but if your plan conflicts with standardized tests or classroom prep time, teachers aren’t going to be happy. Ask the principal in advance for a time and date that work so you can plan around any potential scheduling conflicts.

Let everyone in on it. Whether it’s by writing a note or cooking or decorating for a special day, be sure all parents have a chance to say thanks. Longbranch PTO board member Mindy Bell says her group invites families to send in $1 to help with the PTO’s weeklong teacher appreciation festivities. According to Bell, parents find this more convenient than trying to find the right gift for each teacher.

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