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“Don’t forget, a person’s greatest emotional need is to feel appreciated.” - H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

The first week in May is Teacher Appreciation Week. It is a week when I see such valiant efforts of district and school leaders and other organizations to go to great lengths to shower teachers with appreciation. My Twitter feed floods with posters and sayings exclaiming appreciation for teachers. 

Typically appreciation is shown in the form of food. After all, who doesn’t love a good catered meal or fun snack to switch up the day? Another common appreciation gesture is a new shirt, an embroidered blanket, satchel, or other school swag. Again, if most are like me, anything that comes with the price of free is good in my book.

It’s also the week when businesses are giving discounts (20% off at many restaurants). My personal favorite is the buy one get one at Chipotle. It really is a week that is nationally recognized.

As a former administrator, I sat through planning sessions of how to make teacher appreciation the most magical and special week. Great catered meals, cookouts, swag, you name it. In the height of the pandemic, I was able to arrange a large bonus to all employees for all the extra work they were doing.

I have seen 84 teacher appreciation days in my 12 year career so far. And every year, this year is no exception, I am grateful that someone, or some group, has taken the time to show appreciation. Even if I don’t eat the food being served or have a use for the accessory gifted to me, I am appreciative of the thought that was put into it. 

The one thing we will notice throughout this week will be a number of educators who complain. Five days of meals will be viewed as an insult. There will be complaints over getting a school spirited shirt or other accessory. And the bonus could be $1000; the complaint will be that they should get $1000 every week. Or that it should have been more if they were truly appreciated. In other words, for some, it’s a no-win situation.

I don’t think they do it because they are ungrateful. I think it is done as a cry for understanding. The understanding is that out of 36 weeks out of the school year, everyone goes all in for just one week making sure teachers are appreciated. 

I think timing is another sour note for many. May is typically a month in which end of the year field trips and other activities are beginning. Teachers are tired and exhausted. Bringing in a box of donuts with a fancily printed sign just seems a tad insulting because teachers are tired and exhausted, so donuts and signs aren’t going to be perceived as people trying the best way they know how to show appreciation. Instead they’re going to see it in a negative light because of their frame of mind. People’s perceptions are often their reality. It isn’t that the effort is baseless, it’s just that a person’s state of mind makes such a huge difference in how things are seen.

True appreciation doesn’t happen just during one week out of the year. True appreciation happens daily. And it happens in a way that lets the person know they are appreciated. Little gestures; intrinsic gestures. No amount of money spent will say you are appreciated better than actually giving words of appreciation throughout the year. It’s not hard either. Saying thank you to someone, telling someone you see the extra mile they go, celebrating wins—big or small—with someone.

There are many forgotten ways to show someone they are appreciated. Caring, for example, is a way to show someone they are appreciated. Asking how someone’s children or family are doing. Knowing details of what is going on not just at school but in their life. If you know someone is going on a weekend trip or vacation, ask how it was when they get back. If their child is graduating high school or going through another big milestone, ask how they are handling it. Let people know you are there for them if they need to talk.

You might be thinking, this doesn’t really work. I know firsthand it does. When I was a principal I had a teacher who didn’t see eye to eye with me. They were somewhat of a veteran teacher and I was a new administrator. Through conversation I found out her dad had passed away which was devastating to her. I shared the story of my own father passing away when I was 18 and a senior in high school. Something changed that day as I took time to show appreciation and understanding for that teacher. That isn’t to say we were best friends and always saw eye-to-eye. Far from it, but we shared a mutual appreciation for each other. Showing people that you are human can assist greatly in bringing people’s guard down.

Don’t think this will happen overnight though. Showing true appreciation and being vulnerable (i.e., sharing hardships, etc.) takes practice. It is far from comfortable for most to do this. When they do finally do it, they don’t like it. So, they don’t do it again. Or maybe a person does try but doesn’t get the outcome they desire. Now they figure it isn’t worth the time. Like everything else in life, give it time and practice to hone the skill. The fruit of labor will not be far behind.

The best appreciation isn’t tangible. It also isn’t done just one week out of the year and then forgotten until the following year. True appreciation must happen daily. And it must be sincere. Because if there is one thing a person can spot a mile away it is fake sincerity.