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This year, we appreciate teachers more than ever. Teaching during a pandemic isn’t what they signed up for but it’s what they did, valiantly. After a year of managing online lessons, juggling hybrid schedules, cleaning during their planning time, and constantly fixing tech issues, teachers have gone above and beyond for their students.

With school pandemic safety guidelines and parent group budgets in mind, we’ve collected ideas that we’re sure will make your teachers feel appreciated. And you don’t have to wait until Teacher Appreciation Week in May to show them you care—these ideas work anytime.

 

Budget range: Free up to $100

Make use of technology

Technology makes it easy to convey messages of appreciation when school is remote or hybrid. Room parents can ask classroom families to send short thank-you videos to teachers by email, social media, or on whatever app the teacher uses to communicate with parents. Older students can take it up a notch and use storyboard, PowerPoint, or make a video of reasons they love their teachers.

For classes that meet remotely, photo and video collages starring their students, like this one posted by Leslie Scott from Stuart-Burns Elementary in Burns, Tenn., are a big hit with teachers. Leaders have had success reaching out to a class and having the students hand-draw signs. Then, on a set day and lesson time, the kids turn on their video and hold up their signs for their teacher.

At Cliffside Park (N.J.) School #3, the technology teacher (who's also the PTO secretary) had students make a video explaining why they love and appreciate their teachers, then curated a special video for each teacher. And for School Principals Day, the PTO asked parents to record a short video with their children to honor and celebrate the principal.

E-cards, drawings, and photos

It’s probably been a while since you’ve sent or received an emailed greeting card, but teachers like getting this surprise in their inbox. It’s a small gesture, but as long as it’s from the heart it’ll be appreciated.

Download this sweet Teacher Appreciation word cloud to print, email, or share to your social media as a way of saying thanks.

Have kids create “digital drawings”—they can make cards or drawings on paper, and parent can take a photo to send to the teacher. Snail mail works, too!

For their virtual Teacher Appreciation week, the Chattahoochee Elementary PTA in Duluth, Ga., incorporated a lot of these ideas and came up with a colorful graphic that announced each creative activity on an apple.

For the price of a bucket of colored chalk, write teacher names and messages of thanks and hope on the walkway up to the school building. One PTO leader recruited the drone club at her school to fly over and record the messages, and she then pushed the video out to the staff.

Virtual stress relief

Encourage teachers to relax and take care of themselves by sharing your favorite stress relieving meditation and sleep app. Calm, 10% Happier, Insight Timer, and more are free to download and include beginner meditations, soothing sleep stories, and calming music. Headspace, one of the most well-known apps, requires a subscription after a free trial period.

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

Coloring pages

A quick Internet search of coloring pages for Teacher Appreciation Week will show thousands of free pages for students. For a fun twist, check out coloring pages designed for the teachers themselves. Websites like We Are Teachers, Teachers Pay Teachers, and numerous Pinterest boards offer pages that appeal to a teacher’s creative side, make good boredom busters, and make them smile.

Acts of service

Community service projects are mostly free, with the exception of any supplies needed, such as paint or materials for a building or rehab project, trash bags or disposal fees for a cleanup project, or other incidental expenses. Survey your school staff or ask the principal for meaningful ideas or a cause that requires volunteers. If you need materials, ask local businesses for money or supply donations.

Heartfelt IOU

While it’s typical to hold teacher appreciation efforts in May, lots of events and activities are now taking place throughout the year. If you had something grander in mind but had to postpone it, let your teachers know that as soon as normalcy returns, you’ll plan that luncheon or school supply bar.

 

Budget range: $101 to $250

Movie Night In

It might not be the right time to give them a night out at a theater, but you could give them a gift card for a movie on a streaming service, like GooglePlay or Amazon.

Right before the holidays, the Bellevue (Mich.) Elementary Junior Bronco PTSO spent approximately $250 for 60 staff members’ gifts, which included popcorn boxes from Amazon, food items from Sam’s Club, and a $2 code from Redbox.

Small gifts

When school was entirely virtual, the Evergreen Elementary PTO in California, Md., showed their teachers and staff appreciation weekly. While following restrictions put in place by the principal, the group thoughtfully focused on making teachers feel loved with small gifts like live succulents and sticky notes to packets of gummy fish with a tag that reads “You Are O-fish-ally the Best Teacher!”

The Waretown (N.J.) PTO gave each staff member at Waretown Elementary and Frederic A. Priff Elementary a lip balm with a note that read, “You’re the balm! Friends don’t let friends use last year’s Chapstick found in your winter coat. Here’s a new one! Thank you for your hard work and dedication.”

School supply goody bags

Teachers always need classroom supplies, so they love a goody bag filled with glue sticks, erasable markers, highlighters, sticky notes, and travel-size hand sanitizer.

For green thumbs

Place a few flower bulbs or seed packets in a gift bag as an inexpensive but thoughtful gift. Add a tag that says, “Thank you for helping your students grow.”

 

Budget range: $251 to $500

Gift cards

Gift cards are always a teacher favorite. If possible, consider buying cards to local shops or restaurants; it’s another way to care for your community at large.

Online gift card sites make it easy to collect money toward a Visa, Mastercard, Paypal, or specific store gift card, but check state and federal guidelines for limits to how much teachers can accept. Giving a card for classroom supplies is a nice gesture, especially since teachers spend so much of their own money on these items, but the teacher will be required to keep track of receipts for tax purposes.

The Hunt Club Elementary Home and School Organization in Oswego, Ill., invites school families to submit shout-outs as a way to show staff some love and to boost morale. Families use Google forms to submit a shout-out, and as one of the form editors the principal sees the appreciation as it pours in. Leaders post several shout-outs on Facebook each week, and each month the group randomly selects a staff member to win a gift card and other treats.

Yard signs and banners

The thank-you signs that popped up at the beginning of the pandemic for graduations are a good way to acknowledge teachers and staff any time of year. Local print shops may offer deals on larger orders or in exchange for advertising on your group’s social media, website, or newsletter.

Regardless of whether school is in person, hybrid, or virtual, a thank-you banner hung outside the school will get the attention of passers-by. For a lasting tribute, ask parents to sign and add a personal message to the banner. Once in-person school resumes, it could work well as a decoration in the teacher’s lounge or gym.

Food as love

A free lunch or dinner is always appreciated. Consider prepurchasing dinner from a local restaurant for staff members and their families, which they can pick up curbside on a designated night. If you buy gift cards to a particular restaurant, ask whether they’ll provide a discount code for your teachers. And if your funds are low, think about asking parents to donate or “sponsor” a teacher’s meal.

When volunteers weren’t allowed into the school building, the Rocky River Elementary PTO in Concord, N.C., found a way to bring breakfasts to teachers. Following local safety guidelines, gloved group members packed brown bags with fruit, muffins, and water and added a label that read “Thank you for being an essential part of our team! We appreciate you!”

 

The PTA created an “open vending machine” of snacks for teachers and staff attending a learning model training session at Hoover Math and Science Academy in Schaumburg, Ill. The snacks were individually wrapped (which fit the school’s safety guidelines) and displayed on a table outside the meeting room.

Coffee

Long days teaching require coffee. Set up a tab at a local coffee shop and invite teachers to stop in and pick up a free 16-oz beverage of their choice on the PTO!

Or bring the coffee to them, like the Newton County Theme School Parent Group in Covington, Ga., did when they brought a coffee camper to the school. Because volunteers weren’t allowed in the building at the time, the camper pulled up in front of the building’s entrance. Teachers came out over their lunch period and could choose from any and all coffee drinks, hot cocoa, hot tea, and smoothies.

Stock the lounge

For schools that have hybrid or in-person learning models, the teacher’s lounge is as busy as ever. The Independence Elementary PTO in Winter Garden, Fla., combined donations with group funds to stock the lounge with snacks and drinks for 100 teachers. Group members printed out fun memes to decorate the new treat bins and baskets and give teachers a smile with their snacks.

 

Budget range: $501 and up

Gift buffet

Set up an “ultimate gift buffet” like the one the Kay Franklin Elementary PTA in San Antonio, Texas, did for Teacher Appreciation Week. The group purchased school supplies, disinfecting wipes, gift cards, houseplants, and other items and invited all 90 staff members to each choose 14 items.

Similarly, The PTA at Seabreeze Elementary in Jacksonville Beach, Fla., put together a cleaning supplies buffet. Disinfecting wipes, hand soap, and hand sanitizer were all on the menu to help teachers make it through cold and flu season.

Celebrity shoutouts

For a price (starting at $35), sports stars, actors, musicians, and even animals will record personalized video messages that you can send to your teachers. Apps like Cameo, Greetzly, and Celebrity Video Messaging are a few of the options you can use to make a teacher’s day with a special appreciation shout-out.

Originally posted in 2020 and updated regularly.