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Sari Kopitnikoff

A Thankless Job? Not If We Can Help It

A collection of thank you notes from over the years, along with the author's new teacher appreciation book.
A collection of thank you notes from students and their parents from over the years along with the author’s new teacher appreciation book. (courtesy)

There are ads every week in my local Jewish newspaper seeking qualified teachers. In every grade, in every department, in every school.

And it’s really no wonder why there aren’t enough teachers. Read all the articles about the recent teacher shortage. And what’s causing it? Teachers aren’t paid enough. Teachers aren’t respected enough. Teachers aren’t supported enough. 

Well, I have one more to add: Teachers aren’t thanked enough.

Don’t get me wrong. There have been so many beautiful initiatives by schools to thank teachers. Think sushi lunches, paint night events, and monetary gifts before holidays (often organized by the PTA). Think class group gifts at the end of the year and flowers on teacher appreciation week.

But it’s not enough. Especially given all that comes with being a teacher: countless hours of preparation, catering to the individual needs of each student, lock-down drills with frightened students, never-ending piles of student work to sift through and grade, difficult phone calls and emails with parents, out of pocket costs required to create an optimal classroom, and the often unrealistic curricular goals paired with insufficient time to reach them.

As tasty as the sushi is, it’s not enough to keep our beloved, valuable teachers in the classroom. According to a recent study conducted by the NEA (National Education Association), more than half of educators said they intend to leave the field earlier than they planned. In fact, the hashtag #teacherquitok has more than 260 million views on TikTok, containing all sorts of videos from newly (or soon to be) resigned teachers.

I’ve been reading up on the subject. And I’d like to propose an idea that won’t cost much and will go a long way in ensuring our children continue to have quality teachers: let’s show more appreciation. I’m not talking about elaborate lunch spreads or cutely decorated coffee mugs with sentimental quotes about teachers. And I don’t even mean giving them expensive gift cards to buy more supplies for their classroom. 

I mean doing small and frequent acts of appreciation. Like sending a short email (one line even) thanking teachers for something they did, said, or taught that day. I mean dropping a gracious line to the principal, and cc’ing the teacher on it. I mean giving a handwritten note, expressing gratitude for the school year so far, along with good wishes for the appropriate holiday. And I mean encouraging our children to do the same.

I taught in the classroom for a decade. And every time I received a thank you card from a student or a grateful email from a parent, it made the difficult aspects feel worthwhile; it inspired me to remember why I went into the field in the first place; it encouraged me to keep going.

The end of the school year is approaching. Recently, I checked in with a bunch of educators to ask them what were the most meaningful gifts they’ve received. Many gave interesting answers: a bottle of wine, an umbrella, a self care kit, an autographed copy of a favorite book. But the answer that kept coming up: a gift that showed thoughtfulness. 

Hebrew and Jewish Studies Teacher Adina Mattes said, “While gift cards are very much appreciated, the gifts that I’ve saved for years are the handwritten cards from students and parents that have some kind of personal message inside.” And multi-age teacher Yeshiva Cohen explained her favorites are the gifts that show the giver put some thought into it: “A gift card to a restaurant I like. Something with my hard to find name on it. Things in my favorite color. Even small things that someone said made them think of me. I don’t care for mugs, lotion or candles. I have so many from past students and I use none of them.”

I’m on a mission to encourage more teacher appreciation. I recently released Todah, Teacher! (a fill-in-the-blanks teacher appreciation book to help kids thank their teachers). And on social media, I called on adults to remember and reach out to the teachers who inspired them. Personally, I’m working on tracking down my favorite teachers to thank them for the impact they’ve had on me. But I’m just one person, and I want to invite others to join me in this campaign – to thank our teachers more, and preferably, while they’re still working in the schools.

So, how will we know when teachers are thanked enough? The truth is teachers can never be shown enough appreciation. We can always do better. After all, they’re tasked with the important job of educating, protecting, and caring for our children. The least we can do is show them more appreciation.

So send that email. Write that card. You’ll make someone’s day. And, at the very least, you’ll be doing your part to keep our quality teachers in the classroom.

About the Author
Sari Kopitnikoff is the author of My Davening Diary, Only Kidding! and other creative, educational Jewish books for kids. She’s an experiential educator, digital artist, game-designer, and content creator. For over a decade, she taught elementary through high school, and she now leads engaging and meaningful workshops as well as mystery game experiences all over to kids, teens, and adults.
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