Gratitude for educators: Teacher appreciation ideas that mean the most

Teacher appreciation quote

Any time of year is a good time to be thinking about teacher appreciation ideas. But before we begin, take a moment to think of a teacher who’s made a difference in your life. One who went above and beyond. One who truly cared at a time when you needed it. One who believed. One who helped you learn something important about yourself. One who made you laugh. One who inspired you to new heights in your academic journey…

Did you think of someone? Bet you did. Good teachers have the kind of positive and enduring impact that we carry with us always. And for parents, it’s heartwarming to see that kind of connection happening between our kids and their teachers, too.

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So, what’s the best way to express our gratitude for those caring and hardworking teachers? We’ve quizzed teachers from preschool to college about the expressions of gratitude and appreciation that have meant the most to them over the years. Turns out, it’s often the littlest things that stand out in the biggest ways.

Written notes, cards and letters really do mean a lot to teachers.  

Turns out that when it comes to teacher appreciation ideas, nothing beats the handwritten note. (Still.) One after another, teachers mention written notes, cards, and letters as the type of appreciation they especially like to receive.

“I really enjoy receiving letters or emails from students and families. The fact that they have taken the time to write me a note of appreciation really makes me feel special.” — Jenni L., middle school

“The forms of appreciation I enjoy most are the written notes from students and parents. Knowing that I am making a difference is encouraging.” —Tim B., middle school

“I enjoy cards, letters, pictures, the ones that are personal and show the child knows who I am.” —Terrie M., 4th grade

If you’re not sure what to write in a thank-you note to a teacher, here are some teacher appreciation message ideas and message-starters to get your pen rolling.

The more specific the message of gratitude, the more it means to a teacher.  

The appreciation notes teachers cherish and remember most are the ones thanking them for something specific they said or did.

“One note that particularly stood out is a page-long letter from my yearbook editor articulating her many thanks for everything from my inspiring her interest in journalism to allowing my classroom as a safe place to speak honestly and candidly about basically anything. Talk about tears!” —Taylor A., high school

“The thank-you notes I enjoy most are the ones that go beyond ‘thanks for all you do’ to say something specific like, ‘We really appreciate the extra time and attention you’ve given before school and during planning time to help Jack with math.’” —Jason C., 4th grade

“The notes that stand out to me are the ones that let me know that something small was really so much more.” —Terrie M., 4th grade

Also remember educators beyond just classroom teachers when expressing gratitude. Counselors, paras, tutors, therapists, aides, “specials” teachers, administrators and others enjoy hearing how much they matter, too.

Teachers often keep the thank-you messages they receive.  

The nice thing about a written message of appreciation is that it can encourage a teacher in that moment when they receive it…and for years to come.

“There is a special box in my classroom that holds a few, not a bunch, of very special notes written by parents. These are notes of appreciation but more importantly, they contain words of specific ways they have seen growth in their child. When the parent attributes these areas of growth to something I have had a part in, I am humbled and moved.” —Sally D., kindergarten

“I keep all handwritten notes from families in a teacher tub at home. Words of appreciation are something I never forget. It’s particularly meaningful when families get to know you as a person as well as a teacher.” —Alison B., 1st grade

“I keep a folder of the most meaningful notes I’ve received from students and parents over the past 43 years of teaching. Not everything comes up roses and I go back to those notes when times are rough and remind myself why I teach. I love that I am still connected to so many of them and their parents through Facebook, or Christmas cards, or chance meetings, or email. Teachers are blessed by their students and parents.” —Maureen D., high school

Written thank-you messages affirm teachers and remind them why they do what they do.  

Just as a certain teacher sometimes finds their way into a student’s life at the right moment, a heartfelt message of gratitude can reach a teacher at the exact moment when they need to hear it.

“Teaching is one of those jobs that you never feel ‘good enough’ at what you are doing. There is always something more that you could be doing. Whenever you receive a form of appreciation—any form—it makes you realize that you ARE doing enough and you are making a difference.” —Erica R., 5th grade

“I immensely enjoy receiving handwritten notes from students, even if it’s a short ‘You Rock’ or ‘I <3 You Ms. A’ on a piece of paper or on my whiteboard. Knowing your students took a minute out of their day to write something to their teacher is inspiring.” —Taylor A., high school

“I keep all the notes I’ve received from kids and parents. When I’m stressed about whether I’m doing my job well or if I’m feeling down/overwhelmed, I can go back and read those again.” —Shannon D., preschool

Messages of gratitude from students can be especially meaningful for teachers.  

Appreciation from parents is great, but expressions of gratitude from students really go straight to a teacher’s heart.

“There is one letter that will always stand out, and it was from a student that I had in my first year teaching. I taught this student in 2nd grade and now they were in 5th grade. They had been given an assignment in class to write a letter to a teacher who impacted them. It meant so much to me that after 3 years this student still thought about me and how I impacted their educational journey!” —Erica R., 5th grade

“My first year teaching middle school choir was definitely a stressful year. I followed after a teacher who was very loved, and I felt like it was hard to make connections with some of the students. At the end of the year, an 8th grade student wrote me a handwritten letter telling me how much she had enjoyed class and how much she appreciated all she had learned. It made all the first-year jitters so worth it, and I knew I was on the right path.” —Jenni L., middle school

“I like it when my students write random hilarious things in notes because they are so young. My favorite note says, ‘I like you more than Christmas.’” —Jackie L., elementary school

It’s never too late to thank an educator.  

It’s great to appreciate teachers in the moment, but sometimes we need the benefit of time and hindsight to recognize the difference they’ve made. Teachers love hearing from former students, even years down the road.

“My most memorable note of appreciation was from a former student who sent me a Facebook message about five years after he was in my class. What impressed me was that he pointed out very specific things about his work as a student (that he did poorly on), and how as a more experienced professional he then understood why I cared. This made me tear up because it was a sign I was doing the right thing.” —Rebecca T., college

“I recently received a message from a former student asking me the name of a book we read when she was in second grade. As we talked, it meant so much to me to know how much she loved it! (Bonding happens during read aloud time.)” —Carolyn G., Head of School

“I received a note of appreciation from a parent of a child that I had had early in my teaching career. It was 20-25 years after I had her son in class. The fact that his mom was still thinking about me and my influence was certainly surprising. Her letter described many things that she felt had helped influence his future. I still have it. I usually tried to read that letter every year to always remind me of how I touch others.” —Debbie B., 1st grade

Teachers also appreciate gifts of gratitude—especially when it’s something that shows you know them.  

Teachers particularly enjoy gifts that are thoughtfully timed, based on what’s going on in their life at the moment, or specifically chosen, based on what they like best.

“The thought behind the gift makes it really special—for instance, a gift card to a favorite restaurant right after conferences so I wouldn’t have to cook.” —Bonnie S., 2nd grade

“I received a journal a couple of years ago from a parent who noticed I used a journal every week in church to write down prayer requests. The fact that the parent noticed something about me, rather than just the fact that I was a teacher made it a special gift.” —LuAnn L., 1st grade

Gifts are also meaningful for teachers when they involve some kind of shared experience or personal touch.  

These include team gifts from the class, handmade gifts, or gifts that capture a student at a particular point in time.

“I collect rubber ducks, and I had a student make me a duck painting that said, ‘I’m one lucky duck to have a teacher like you.’ It stood out to me because she had made it herself, and I knew she made it with love.” —Katelyn P., 4th grade

“A bookshelf from my first class really stands out. It was my end-of-the-year gift and it has each student’s handprint and name on it. I’m still using it today.” —Alison B., 1st grade

Teachers understand that parents are busy and stressed.  

They definitely don’t expect formal expressions of gratitude, especially during challenging times. But they still enjoy quick texts, notes, or emails to check in or say thanks.

“I’ve mostly received quick emails or texts lately. But I know parents are feeling equally stressed and out of sorts, as we are as co-educators more than ever now, so I don’t feel unappreciated.” —Jason C., 4th grade

“In recent weeks, I have received one letter in the mail from a student and some handwritten cards delivered in learning packets back to the school. It has helped me as a teacher, and parents seem to understand in a new and better way that we are a team in working with their kids. I think we are both learning a new level of respect for each other.” —LuAnn L., 1st grade

“Something that did have a huge impact on me was during a FaceTime call with a student. The parent stepped in at the end of the call and I could tell she was completely overwhelmed and so stressed out. I asked her if I could pray for her right then. Afterwards, with tears in her eyes, she told me ‘thank you.’ I was humbled and moved. I was grateful for being able to do what I do.” —Sally D., kindergarten

In conclusion  

Educators do what they do because they’re passionate about it, and they consider the experience of seeing students learn and grow a reward in itself. Still, they do enjoy a little heartfelt appreciation whenever it comes their way. Hopefully, it’s inspiring to you to see how much even a small gesture of gratitude can mean to a teacher. So, thank one whenever you get a chance. They’ll feel great. And you’ll be glad you did!


Here are a few more related ideas, in case you might find them useful!