The end of the school year is, once again, upon us. On the one hand: oh, thank goodness, I am SO relieved to not have to get up at the crack of whenever. On the other: so much less time to get stuff done! It seems a cruel trade-off, that we have to get up at an unholy hour in order to accomplish more during the day, but there it is.
Our children have had an exceptionally good year this school year, for which I am absurdly grateful. Our third grader struggled last year with her teacher, who didn’t seem to love kids that age and didn’t seem terribly emotionally invested in the well-being of my child in particular. She was a kind individual, but second grade was NOT her jam. This year has been a 180-degree difference, and my child’s teacher adores her (and the whole class) and has been an incredible influence for the good. Which came in extra helpful as we battled Mean Girl issues (already?!? in THIRD GRADE?!?)
Our boy went to public school for the first time, and I wasn’t sure how that would go. Quite honestly, I thought he’d rebel and we’d end up homeschooling him. But he LOVES school, and his teacher is the perfect fit for him: firm but kind, and very engaged with who each of the children in her class is becoming.
The youngest is finishing her last year of preschool, and I find I am very, very sad about that. No more babies in our house. She is a delight, and her teachers have encouraged and celebrated her–without fussing over her or indulging her. It’s a delicate balance with a kid who has a big smile and lots of charm, to like them and enjoy them without spoiling them, and they’ve been so, so good at it.
So may of us have hunted for houses in particular neighborhoods because the schools are “good” there. It adds a whole zero to the end of the cost of some houses, being in the “right” school zone. But study after study has indicated that it isn’t the SCHOOL that matters in your child’s education, it’s the CLASSROOM TEACHER. You can be in the “worst” school, according to statistics, and if you have a classroom teacher who cares about and engages with and invests in your child individually and specifically, their success–by any measure–is markedly and quantitatively improved. The influence of the classroom teacher cannot be overstated, and it works in both directions: a teacher who has a negative influence can damage a child’s success and opinion of schooling to the same degree that a teacher with a positive influence can improve it.
Like a lot of parents, I want to recognize the teachers who have been so great–and, if we’re being honest, reward and…is bribe too strong a word? them to continue teaching. On average, the teachers with the highest ratings, both in their professional evaluations and by the parents of their students or by the students themselves, are the most likely to leave the profession in the first five years. Half of all teachers leave in the same time span, but notably the ones who are more effective are the most likely to go. GREAT TEACHERS LEAVE TEACHING. And when you have children still in school, that should scare you.
I don’t know about you, but I’m not above a little hand-made bribe. Not for special treatment for my kids specifically, but to give teachers a boost and remind them that what they do makes an enormous impact and does not go un-noticed.
I taught public school for nearly ten years. I got my share of teacher gifts. I was grateful for every single one, I sent thank you notes, and I hugged every child who took the time to remember me during the year–and gifts are NOT my love language, so that was tough work for me. Having said that…I did not need another coffee mug. Right? Coffee and tea drinkers, back me up: you have a favorite mug. You do not need a dozen mugs.
I did not need a plate of cookies. Teaching involves a lot of baked goods, y’all. I appreciated the hand-made effort, I did. I was grateful. But then I felt guilty when they got stale and sat un-eaten for a week, and eventually I was forced to throw them out. It felt disrespectful and unworthy of the gift. Except…I did not need a plate of cookies.
I did not need a Hallmark gift that says “#1 Teacher,” even though I would blush at the idea that anyone would think of me that way, with pleasure and pride. There is only so much shelf space to display such a thing, and I was low on shelf space in an already crowded classroom that I shared with at least one other teacher. I still own every single item I was ever gifted that said “#1 Teacher,” because I treasure them (and wrote the student’s names who gifted them to me on the back, so I would never forget), but I have yet to build a shelf in my home to display them all.
The gifts that I love best are the ones that were MADE for me. I have a small triangle that was spray painted and signed in Sharpie. It’s humble, but it includes a message from a student that she composed herself. It says, “You’re a Star to Me.” She made it in Tech Theater class, with the power tools, and we both giggled when she gave it to me. It’s a treasure.
I have a sign on a piece of painted plywood with a sheet of beaten copper nailed to the front with a “Best Teacher” message across it. One of the students when I did my teaching internship made it for me in art class, by hand, each letter beaten in one by one, and the whole class planned a secret party at the end of my tenure there to present it to me. I adore it, and remember those kids like it was yesterday (even though it was 1997, and they all probably are parents by now–gah!)
Handmade gifts make an impact. And an impact is my GOAL: teachers change the world, and if keeping great teachers teaching is something I can do by sewing or crafting for them, then SEWING can change the world, indirectly. I’m all up on that action.
So here’s the question: what’s the PERFECT teacher gift? The pouches in these images are lined drawstring bags with quilted bottoms–I made them at Camp Stitchalot to give as gifts (for birthdays, not to teachers), and can easily make more. (The pattern was an ad hoc from that weekend, but Jeni Baker has something very similar on her blog.) Is this useful for a teacher? Should I ask my children to craft something out of clay? Would a teacher prefer a Sew Together Bag or a small quilt?
If you had two weeks before the end of school, and wanted to make something handmade but of a reasonable level of effort to thank your children’s teachers for their investment in your family, what project would you make? Add your comments below–ideas or links–and I’ll compile them into a list to share early next week!