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by Kaitlin McManus | May 07, 2019

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It’s Teacher Appreciation Week, which means that, all week, the desks of elementary school teachers will be covered in apples, macaroni pictures, and Starbucks gift cards. But college is a little different. For one, most of your professors probably don’t want your macaroni pictures—unless they have a weird sense of humor. Secondly, your parents probably took care of the financial aspects of elementary teacher gifts—and you’re probably broke. So how are you supposed to show your favorite professors the appreciation they definitely deserve when you’re the one begging for coffee money? Don’t worry—we’ve got you covered.

Do the Reading.

In the words of my fellow English major, the incomparable John Mulaney: “I paid $250,000 to have someone tell me to read Jane Eyre, and then I didn’t.” I’m not going to sit here and lie to you: I absolutely did not read some of the things I was told to read in college. (Sorry, Mom and Dad—Plato is just a nightmare.) But you know why professors ask you to read things, be they the assigned books or those impossibly thick packets of supplementary articles? Mostly it’s because they’re excited to share that information with you. Professors usually teach something they find interesting—that’s how it works. They want you to like the subject as much as they do. A student actually reading that 20-page New Yorker article they passed around last week and pointing out what about it caught their interest is such an exciting feeling for a professor and an awesome way for you to show that you appreciate the efforts they make towards your education.

Participate in the Class Discussion.

This kind of goes hand-in-hand with the above point. There are usually a handful of people who can’t or won’t shut up during a class discussion (guilty), but professors absolutely notice the folks that don’t say much during class. If you usually sit on the sidelines, either because you’re absorbing what’s being said or because you’ve got Facebook open on your laptop, try contributing to the discussion this week. You’ll probably be able to watch your professor’s face light up with excitement that you’re taking part. Engaging students is a tough job for any professor, so try meeting them halfway this week.

Visit Their Office Hours.

You don’t really need a reason to visit a professor’s office hours. If you’ve got a question about an upcoming paper or don’t understand a concept they went over in class, office hours would be a great place to find answers. But, so long as they’re not busy helping other students (and they’re often not—you might be shocked at how few students take advantage of office hours), you really can just show up and say “Hi.” Professors are intelligent and interested in their students—that’s why they’re professors and part of what makes most of them excellent conversationalists. You don’t even have to talk about school if you don’t want to—chats with my French professor usually wound up being about our mutual love of Benedict Cumberbatch rather than anything français. So just go—get to know them, and I’ll bet your classroom experience with them improves, too.

Invite Them Out.

One of my campus’ English professors was so beloved by us students that we invited him out for the department’s senior pub crawl. He kept up pretty well, too—and it was a strange, idiosyncratic delight to have someone quote Keats before a round of shots. Not all of your professors are party animals (though you might be surprised), but if you’ve got the cash to take them out for a cup of coffee or a glass of wine, I’ll bet they would really appreciate the break from the daily grind. And it’ll give you the chance to bond with them more as equals—welcome to adulthood, where you can call your teachers by their first name. The pleasure of your company and conversation is often the form of appreciation that professors appreciate most in return. Plus, two drinks costs a heck of a lot less than any amount you’d have to put on a Starbucks gift card to seem respectable.

Offer an Extra Set of Hands—Or Eyes.

Being a professor (or really a teacher of any kind) comes with a lot of busywork that can eat up time better suited to, you know, teaching students. Whether it’s photocopying readings or grading quizzes, professors could stand to have quite a bit taken off their plates. Plenty of schools have a Teacher’s Assistant program, but many smaller schools don’t—and sometimes professors in smaller departments get left out of the TA loop for lack of applicants. This would probably work best if you already know the professor in question, but if you really want to go above and beyond, offer to give them a hand around the office for an hour or two. Most professors I know would be so grateful to hand off a few tasks so they can finally get around to all those emails languishing in their inbox.

However you go about it, make sure that your professors feel appreciated this week—they go to a lot of trouble to make sure that you get the best education you can, and we’re not always as grateful as we should be for their efforts. Thanks to all you professors out there who make college such a wonderful experience for so many students, who are extraordinarily lucky to have you.

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