When my boys were small, I thanked their teachers all of the time. I was always in the classroom, rummaging in desks for forgotten homework assignments, or asking for clarification about an after-school play rehearsal or soccer practice. I even got to volunteer for pizza lunches.
But now, my older son is in Grade Eight. There's an unwritten rule about not appearing in the classroom. I do understand that Derrick is carving out his own place in the world and learning to manage his own responsibilities. And I understand the humiliation a 13-year-old would feel if Mom were constantly waving at the classroom door.
Still, I sometimes struggle to find ways to let our my son's teacher know how grateful I am for all that she brings to his life. The holidays are a rare opportunity, a moment in time when reaching out makes sense -- even to a cringing adolescent boy. Giving gifts is what everyone's doing, not some strange affectation unique to his parents. So how do I honour a teacher whom I barely know, in ways that are meaningful and somewhat personal?
Here are five things I'll do for my son's teacher this year:
- Give early: I'll send the gift early in December, so it doesn't disappear in the blur of wine bottles and chocolate boxes that appear on the last day of school. That way, Ms. D can enjoy it during the busy weeks leading up to the holidays.
- Write something: Rather than scribbling "Thanks for everything!" in a generic card, I'll write a more personal note. I'll recall those lessons or experiences that Derrick shared with excitement, including discussing the film The Butler or learning the fascinating, mystifying properties of pi in math class.
- Encourage my son to write something: Even if it's been a challenging term, it's healthy to nurture gratitude in kids. I'll have Derrick write a note, mentioning a couple of things that he enjoyed this term, to include in our envelope. Our artistic younger son might enjoy the challenge of making a little comic strip about life in the classroom.
- Give a meaningful gift: We once received a handout from a teacher describing all the mugs she'd received over the years. She asked that families make donations in her name instead. Last year, I honoured Derrick's environmentally conscious, social-justice oriented homeroom teacher by giving a solar panel in her name to a poor community overseas through World Vision Gifts. She loved it, and felt so gratified that someone had heard what she was trying to teach. Although the gift cost more than I would normally have spent, I did receive a tax receipt.
- Remember the others: French, gym or music teachers usually get forgotten, as do principals and office staff. Consider giving a charitable gift for a group, listing everyone's names, and explaining what you've done in their honour. It could be a donation for a village overseas, or your very own school community -- perhaps toward those new computers the school is saving for.
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