I remember Teacher Appreciation Day when I was in elementary school. It was hard to think of a good gift. One year, I brought my teacher an apple (you know the old saying about an apple for teacher). I wanted it to be extra special, so I washed it. It didn’t shine, so I polished it with tooth paste. I wonder if she ate it?

Peter Greene has a much better idea about a gift for teachers. It costs nothing, but they will love it.

He writes:

I taught for decades in the same district where I was a student, and so many of my former teachers had the opportunity to share with me the notes that they had received from my parents years before. They had saved these, and many other notes from other parents for years and years. Plants die. Gift cards are used up. But you can hold on to those personal notes for the rest of your career.

Many teachers have that collection. A file folder, or a big envelope, or just a stack stored in a special spot. For years, mine were tucked in one pocket of my briefcase that I didn’t use for anything else. Notes from students, from parents, from students that reached out years after leaving the classroom.

It’s hard to convey what a lift these provide to teachers, how in a rough patch you find yourself getting them out and rereading them as a reminder of a time when you did some good work. My most prized retirement gift is a bound collection of messages and notes from former students.

You don’t need to scour online stores or drive to Big Box Mart. It just takes a piece of paper and some heartfelt words. If you want to give the gift that keeps on giving, give a note. The teacher will get it out and read it again for years and years, drawing encouragement from it every time.

It is never too late to send that note. You don’t always appreciate a certain teacher until years after you’ve left her classroom. Send a note of appreciation then; I guarantee that she will be glad to get it.

The sincerity is key. This week teachers will be offered all sorts of gifts and discounts and attagirls from people who spend the other 51 weeks of the year treating teachers like dirt. Legislators will release messages about how important teachers are, and then they’ll go back to making sure that teachers don’t get more money or support while explaining that teachers really are the source of all problems in schools these days. Policy makers will issue press releases about the importance of teachers, then they will go back to ignoring teacher voices while crafting policy. Here’s a tip: If you are only going to appreciate teachers for one week out of the year, don’t bother. If you’re a school administrators who is just getting around to expressing appreciation for your teaching staff in May, well—never mind, because nobody is going to believe you.

You can read the full post here.