On a recent day, Linthicum Elementary School's science lab got a complete makeover, being transformed into a spa with soft lighting, relaxing music and two massage therapists to soothe the necks and backs of those who challenge young minds.
Talk about teacher appreciation.
"It was lovely. I had gone camping the weekend before and I was knotted up, and they worked on that," first-grade teacher Katie Williams recalled of the gift from parents (one of whom was a massage therapist). She and other teachers relish this time of year - when parents, students and PTAs honor the teachers' yearlong efforts with year-end gifts.
The 2009 gift season comes amid a national recession and hard economic choices for Maryland families. But parents say they still want to recognize what teachers do. So creative giving is in - coming up with services such as massages, or devising themes that emphasize fun and appreciation. Some parents are giving lottery tickets; others, at a teacher's request, have donated money to underwrite an arts performance or brighten up the set of the school play.
Much of the gift-giving centered on National Teacher Appreciation Week, the first week in May; the rest tends to come at the end of the academic year. It all gives parents and students a chance to pause and thank instructors who often work well past school hours and spend their own money to get the job done.
"Teachers give a lot of their own resources and aren't reimbursed. I cannot imagine not giving a gift for the end of the year or the holidays," said Chris Goldman of Hampstead, who has two children at Hampstead Elementary.
She said parents and PTA members at the Carroll County school will give individual and group gifts to the teachers at school's end - this after providing gift cards, ice cream sundaes and lunch during Teacher Appreciation Week. "You feel like you just want to say, 'Thank you.' "
Heather Boos of Pikesville, who has two children at Fort Garrison Elementary, said the school's PTA has been mindful of choosing creativity over cost.
By getting students involved and allowing parents to offer services instead of money, gifts have included everything from massages to gourmet omelets (one parent is a chef) to paper quilts made by students.
Jason Williams, music teacher at Park Elementary in Brooklyn, said the PTA paid a $300 rental fee for the school band to perform at the Chesapeake Arts Center in Brooklyn Park, and for a digitized recording of the show. Park Elementary arts teacher Barb Waters said the PTA also gave money to help paint sets and props for a play, and to have a student-designed school logo crafted into a flag.
"In over 14 years as band teacher, I've had more than my share of mugs and key chains; it's the practical gifts they give us that are the best," said Williams. "With the economy the way it is, anything that isn't practical isn't a gift. The PTA here is very supportive about letting us pick out what we want and, if it's not ridiculous, they pretty much grant our wish."
Terri Chiu of Ellicott City, who has children in elementary and middle school, said she has given teachers lottery tickets with a note that said they were "one in a million."
The PTA at Ridgeway Elementary in Severn offers a teacher appreciation gift each month of the school year. During staff appreciation month in May, each staffer got a Heavenly Ham lunch box and a celebration cake, Ridgeway PTA chair Kathy Hayes said, adding, "During these events, we do our best to make the staff feel special, setting the tables with flowers and tablecloths."
At Jacobsville Elementary in Pasadena, the PTA organized Beach Week 2009 for this year's Teacher Appreciation Week.
Each day teachers got gifts with a beach theme, including sunglasses, tote bags and personalized can insulators. There were also massage days, pedicure days and luncheon days.
"We had gifts donated by local businesses, and every day during the morning we drew names of prize winners," said Laura Walton, the PTA's Family Involvement co-chair at Jacobsville. "We had enough gifts for every staff member."
Gunpowder Elementary PTA member Christine Green said students there gave a theme to Teacher Appreciation Week - "Flashback To The 1970s" - and gave a weekly gift using each letter from the word DISCO: a "drawing," an "inspirational" quote, a "special" token of appreciation, a "card" and "one" good student for the day. "The teachers liked this idea, because all students in the school could participate without spending a lot of money," Green said.
One school that did alter its gift-giving approach because of the economic crisis is Belvedere Elementary in Arnold.
"Due to the rather dismal economy, and knowing how our school families are struggling, we decided not to ask the parents to be financially involved," said Madeleine Scheerer, chair of the school's Teacher Appreciation Week. "I did write to all of the parents saying that if they wanted to gift a particular teacher that was their option."
But Belvedere's teachers certainly didn't go away empty-handed.
The PTA raised enough for a coffee-break day on Monday, a luncheon on Wednesday and tea with scones on Friday. Each day, they held a drawing for gifts, including an afghan, a picnic basket and a spa treatment gift card.