How to make teacher appreciation last all year long

Teachers in the US are typically recognized for one week in May, but students and their parents can take inspiration from global school traditions that make teacher appreciation a daily practice.

Michael Penn/Junea Empire/AP
Lorrie Heagy, music teacher at Glacier Valley Elementary School, encourages her students to take a bow at the end of their concert for students and families during a school assembly in Juneau, Alaska, on April 17.

Teacher Appreciation Week, May 5-11, prompts the beginning of end of the school year appreciation gifts and celebrations for teachers in the US. Many are flooded with cards, flowers, and other goodies. There’s no doubt that being a teacher is one of the most challenging, yet often under-appreciated jobs in the US. 

I’ve had some pretty remarkable teachers throughout my life, as I’m sure many students have. But one thing I regret not doing as a student was to show more appreciation to those teachers. Sure, I have given my favorite teachers small gifts throughout the years, but I wish I had thanked them, from the bottom of my heart, for all their hard work and care, especially since I myself am now a teacher, and realize the time and effort spent inside – and outside – the classroom.

My friends from different countries have shared with me how teachers are appreciated – daily – in their cultures.

In Singapore, whenever a student sees a teacher in school, the student will greet and bow to their teacher. 

“Asian culture is quite strong and we respect elders,” writes Hani AlleSandria, a laboratory technician at a school in Singapore in an I.M. conversation. 

Ummi Kaltsum, an accounts assistant from Singapore, also writes in an IM conversation that showing respect to teachers is a must. “We Asians are quite conservative and our culture is more to respect the elderly.”

In the Philippines, students use formal honorifics when speaking to their teachers, by addressing them as "sir" or "ma’am," according Dee Harper, a Filipino-American, English as a Second Language instructor at the University of South Carolina. 

Ms. Harper says that students take turns to erase the board for the teacher. On Teacher’s Day in The Philippines, celebrations last all day long. “Many times, students show respect and appreciation by giving the teacher a gift like food or flowers or even some kind of card,” writes Harper in another I.M. conversation. “The students perform and put on various shows for Teacher’s Day. They like to sing and dance there.”

In Turkey, when the teacher walks into the classroom, the students stand up, to show respect. The students only sit down when the teacher tells them to, writes Sumeyye Coban, an architect from Turkey, in an email exchange.

“And during the lesson, if [the] teacher talks to a student or asks a question, he/she stands up to answer. [The student] can never talk while sitting [at] his desk,” writes Ms. Coban. Students never call their teachers by name, but instead use the Turkish word "öğretmenim" which translates to “my teacher.” 

In Egypt, students give their teachers gifts on Mother’s Day (in March) if she’s a female, to signify their recognition and respect to the teacher as a motherly figure. 

In Japan, at the beginning of each lesson, students stand up and tell their teacher “please teach us.”  At the end of each lesson, the students stand up and thank the teacher for teaching them, says Kasumi Yamazaki, an instructor and PhD student at the University of Toledo.   

Students also bow to their teachers as a sign of respect. Students in Japan are not only taught to respect teachers on a daily basis, but to appreciate the school by keeping it clean. “Everyone is responsible for cleaning and we even clean the toilets and bathrooms. Not a single outside business cleans it,” she adds. 

Sure, teachers are grateful for flowers and chocolate, but a teacher will most likely remember a student for their respect and kindness towards them, their peers, and to the school. A student will also leave a lasting impression when they show gratitude towards education and an eagerness to learn. And yes, Starbucks gift cards are nice, too, because let’s face it, teachers deserve a little treat every once in a while.

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