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10 Ways to Tell Your Child’s Teacher Thank You After This Horrific Year

A metal water bottle.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Simple Modern/Amazon.

Teaching is a hard, sometimes thankless job. It always has been. But, like many jobs, the pandemic has really highlighted the absolute worst of it: the lack of resources, the pressure from parents and politicians to work miracles, the ridiculous work hours made even longer by surprise switches to and from remote learning. In normal times, I find that the best way to honor teachers is to support their unions and vote for politicians who prioritize public education, and for parents to read to their kids. This year, however, I can see why parents might want to consider giving teachers a little extra love during Teacher Appreciation Week, which starts May 3. Since the pandemic has shifted teachers’ needs, and rendered some typical teacher gifts useless, here are a few of the items I think my co-workers (or I!) would appreciate receiving most.

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I’ve always found a laminator to be useful in the classroom, but never more than I have this year. Once laminated, papers and instructions can be wiped down with sanitizing wipes, making them more versatile for shared use among students. And having my own equipment would save me time and trips to our shared copy room, making my day a little safer and easier.

This year has been very dehydrating! With so many kids to reach through so many different mediums, and because I often have to raise my voice a bit to have it carry over Zoom, I do lots more talking. Which means I need to drink more water. Most of the teachers in my school also have to use a cart to move materials around as we go between rooms (so that the students always stay in one spot and there’s less risk of contamination). It’s handy to keep a water bottle (or even two) on my cart to make sure I can always stay hydrated.

I’ve recommended these before, but I am a huge fan of these travel mugs. This year, many schools (like mine) have closed the faculty room’s communal coffee machine, which makes bringing one’s own caffeine a necessity. Not to mention, the straw makes it possible to sneak sips without having to go through the mask-removal process, making the day a little bit easier. This mug has been a lifesaver for me.

Schools typically buy dry erase markers at the start of the year, and even in a normal school year, the whole stock is gone by January. This year, we need more than usual, because kids can’t borrow a marker from a friend, and we can’t have a bin of “extra” markers for when one inevitably gets lost or dries out. A fresh supply in April is a total windfall. (If you want to throw in a little surprise, pick up some whiteboard erasers or miniature whiteboards for the classroom—teachers can never have too many of them.)

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Another whiteboard accessory that proves useful but schools don’t typically buy? Wet-erase markers. These have the benefit of seeming permanent, in that you can’t accidentally erase them, but they won’t ruin your whiteboard like a Sharpie would.

Sit spots are another “have always been useful but are especially necessary this year” gift. Sit spots give kids a sense of ownership over their space, and help those who struggle with personal space to define boundaries. Additionally, this year, teachers can use them to move the kids from the desk to the floor while ensuring the 6-foot (or 3-foot, as guidelines change) distance is enforced.

Certain gifts are timeless and transcend even a global pandemic. A nice pen is one of them. Most schools supply teachers with basic pencils and black and blue pens for the year, but it’s extra nice to be able to mark up student work with a little bit of color. That’s usually an out-of-pocket expense for teachers, so a pack of pens can be a real boon. Teachers passionately defend their favorite pen brands, and I don’t want to step on any toes here, but I think it’s safe to say either InkJoy or Flair pens are very safe bets (hint: InkJoy).

Like pens, stickers are just generally nice. They have a multitude of uses—they’re good to reinforce good behavior, help kids understand how to work toward a goal or prize, mark high quality work, etc. This year, I’ve seen a few teachers use scented stickers, like these, and they seem to bring an extra smile to kids’ (masked) faces.

While I’d love to suggest you gift a specific craft supply like a Cricut, since so many teachers spend money on these sorts of things, a gift card can be an easier bet if you’re not familiar with your child’s teacher’s creative supplies. Likewise with tech supplies (a stylus, headphones, a microphone, a camera).

Near-constant hand-washing has left my skin drier than ever. A parent got me a little hand lotion for Christmas this year, and I am truly grateful for it! When I mentioned this to a co-worker, she recommended that parents always gift a lotion that’s unscented or has a very mild smell. Having received the world’s stinkiest lotion from a student a few years back, I can confirm that that’s a good idea.

I have to throw in at least one not-just-for-the-classroom gift: a nice chocolate, coffee, tea, or other treat. It’s been a tough year, and most teachers I know are feeling particularly burned out. A little pick-me-up can add some pep to the tough days ahead. Summer may be in sight, but we’re not there yet.

Over the course of my career at Slate, I’ve worked on a few Slate Plus podcasts on heavy historical topics: the history of American slavery, Reconstruction, and the history of fascism. The deep research I did while putting together those projects still serves me, years later, while writing historical pieces for Slate. Thanks very much for supporting this kind of work! —Rebecca Onion, staff writer