It's that time of year again--the time for endings and beginnings; for saying good-bye to classrooms and teachers and the old ways of an old school-year. I look at the second-graders at L.'s school and they seem suddenly all arms and legs and missing front teeth. They carry around Harry Potter books and beloved webkinz, and talk about big kid stuff like THIRD grade. At T.'s school the kids are coming into their own, suddenly, dividing themselves up by boys and girls; T. comes home with gossipy-like tales of who did what to her, and why. They seem to realize, with that uncanny instinct kids have, that they are poised between being preschoolers and being Big Kids.
It's also THAT time of the year again: the time for teacher appreciation week. Last week was L.'s school, and we muddled through it somehow. Monday was sticker day, Tuesday post-it note day, Wednesday dry erase markers day, Thursday Hershey's kisses, and Friday--finally Friday--nuts and berries (!) day. I don't have a single problem with teacher appreciation week. I deeply appreciate my children's teachers--especially L.'s wonderful teachers--and all the hard work they do on a daily basis. But I always end up feeling a tad resentful and put-upon when I have to adhere to a themed teacher appreciation week. I'd much rather be given the choice to bring in one or two special things for the teachers for the whole week, not feel compelled to shop a week in advance (which I can't seem to manage to do, anyway) for such specific items.
It's the same at T.'s school. Except that this year, in the fluster of trying to keep up with teacher appreciation week at L.'s school, I completely forgot that there would be one for T.'s teachers. Yesterday morning, as I prepared T.'s bag for school, I discovered a crumpled paper in the bottom with the scheduled "themes" for the week. Tuesday was, apparently, bring your teacher flowers or fruit day. A hasty search through our fridge didn't come up with any suitable fruit for the teachers (I thought about a couple of apples, but they seemed mealy, and it just doesn't seem right to give a teacher a sub-par apple). So after my class I raced to the local grocery store and made a bee-line for the produce aisle. Just as I was contemplating the merits (and price) of strawberries over Fuji apples, I saw another mom from T.'s school with a bag of apricots and two huge, expensive pineapples.
"I don't know what to do!" she told me, when we'd acknowledged each other from across the bins of fruits. "I thought today was school supply day, not flower or fruit day."
"Are the pineapples for the teachers?" I asked, my nosiness and feelings of fruit unworthiness winning out over tact.
"Is it too much?" she asked, looking genuinely concerned as she sized up my strawberries.
But before I could answer (would I have been honest? I don't know) her phone rang and we waved good-bye and I headed to the checkout line. But I felt twinges of worry about my buy-one-get-one-free strawberries versus her large and lush pineapples. While I waited for the cashier I saw her out of the corner of my eye, still toting around those pineapples.
The fundamental problem with teacher appreciation week is that it makes appreciating your children's teachers so themed and organized, and even competitive. Teacher appreciation week has fallen prey to the overscheduling and overcommercializing of all the holidays. We try hard to show our children's teachers appreciation throughout the year, in small ways--a handmade card from T. now and again, or a special picture. Every now and then I'll email L.'s teacher and thank her for the extra effort she's made, or for how understanding she is when only 50 percent of that week's homework gets done. I think making these small gestures is critical--as a teacher I know I value them. And I also think it's important to honor teachers in a more formal way once or twice a year. But I do think the daily themed weeks make the process too mechanical, to the point where we're thinking less about how we appreciate the teachers, and more about how little we appreciate feeling guilty about fruit.