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It’s not too late to mark Teacher Appreciation Week. They could use it now more than ever

A health technician at a Lynwood middle school gives a computer to a parent
Patricia Cardenas, health technician at Hosler Middle School in Lynwood, gives a computer to a waiting parent last month.
(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

They transitioned to “distance learning” almost overnight. They sent dozens of school supply packs to students in the mail. They fielded hundreds of parent questions.

Teachers could use a thank you.

“We’re exhausted,” said Marc Perkins, a biology professor at Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa.

This Teacher Appreciation Week, there will be no apple on the desk or hugs at the classroom door. Still, there are plenty of creative ways to honor teachers online or at a social distance.

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“The biggest appreciation isn’t [a gift]. Those things are nice, but it almost feels like a social thing you do,” said Teresa Kaufman, preschool teacher and owner of Tiny Scholars Daycare, a Chinese immersion school in Redondo Beach. “Really, the appreciation comes from when a parent acknowledges the effort the teacher puts in for their kid. ... ‘Yes, thank you, I know he can be difficult. Thank you for giving him those extra hugs.’”

When the pandemic first stunned schools into shutdown mode, teachers were the ones coming up with ideas for how to acknowledge their students from a distance. Cars carrying teachers paraded through students’ neighborhoods to cheer them on. Schools released videos of teachers saying hello from their homes. This week in Long Beach, a “reverse parade” of families drove by Prisk Elementary School, where a line of teachers standing six feet apart waved homemade signs and cheered.

Now it’s up to families to return the favor. They may take inspiration from teachers by creating video collages or organizing a thank-you parade. Or students can send gift cards, draw homemade cards, write emails, drop off desserts, decorate their sidewalks with chalk art, put up yard signs or send money online through websites such as AdoptAClassroom.org or DonorsChoose.org.

New teachers may appreciate traditional gifts, like a mug, said Kaufman. But more senior teachers, who probably already have a large collection of such items, are more likely to appreciate a personalized thank-you.

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Some families may find inspiration for an appreciation in a teacher’s Zoom classroom.

Deija Johnson, who teaches first- through sixth-grade students with disabilities at Killybrooke Elementary School in Costa Mesa, said it was initially strange to invite her students into her home virtually, and to see into theirs. But now she knows them more intimately than she would in a typical schoolyear.

“I will never forget these students because we learned so much about them through this process — and their siblings and their dog,” Johnson said. “We almost are in this synergy with each other, and it’s bonded us.”

Carmen Ornelas, a third-grade teacher at McKibben Elementary School in Whittier, is accustomed to getting small gifts during Teacher Appreciation Week. This year, her principal is sending out daily thank-you emails with inspirational songs. She has received a bouquet of virtual flowers and a few messages from parents.

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But one of the most memorable messages came at the end of a Zoom class this week, when one third-grader raised his hand.

“‘It’s not a question, I just want to tell you thank you,’” she recalled him saying. “Just the small ‘thinking of you’ words, just the kindness and ‘I appreciate you.’ ... I appreciate them as well.”

The gratitude doesn’t have to come from current students, either. Perkins said he recently received an email from a student he’d taught in a biology class nearly a decade ago, who is now graduating from medical school. The note, which Perkins said still makes him tear up, reminisced on how much the student had loved the course.

“Those kinds of notes can mean so much to know that somebody’s still thinking about my little course that was one of, what, hundreds that he took on his journey,” Perkins said.


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