As a teacher this sort of respect and kindness is very evident in the classroom. Of course, I teach teenagers, so there is always the occasional pubescent hiccup, but for the most part my students are models of what I would consider "all-around good people."
From what I can gather, respect permeates Thai culture to the core.
As someone who has now been in the teaching field at multiple schools for six years, I am used to "teacher appreciation" days consisting of a pen with the local unions name on it, and perhaps a sandwich or some finger food. Usually it is haphazard and very evident that it is a byproduct of someone passing the buck down the chain until they decided that they would spend less than a dollar per person to celebrate our chosen profession.
Of course this does not take into account some of the more personal actions shown by select administrator (Mr. Terri York - kudos for the nerd gift!)
If teacher appreciation in the United States consists of a pen and lukewarm food, The Thai tradition cannot even be compared or considered on the same spectrum.
Wai Khru is a celebration of respect and education. The ceremony itself is very scripted, but also very touching in the sincerity and authenticity of the moment.
The whole process starts out with students working on their own time to create and design offerings that can range from the traditional to the abstract. They are decorated with flowers and other objects and genuinely look amazing. You can see from the pictures the level of work that the students put into these offerings.
After all the preparations are complete, the whole school gets together to show respect for the faculty, the administrators, and the school/university president.
The whole ceremony starts off with a few speeches and some other religious activities. There is a bit of singing, and then the "curriculum" is brought out to be blessed by the school president. In this case he dipped his finger into some white ink and marked the top corner of the book to give his approval.
The faculty are all seated on the stage and the students first present the tray offerings to each of the faculty. During this process each of the faculty members is bowed to and receives a gift offering from the student. These will then go to be displayed at the entrance of the school, and the faculty then might say a few things to the student.
After all of this, each student is given a few flower garlands and are allowed to come up on stage and present them to different teachers as a more personal gift of thanks and recognition. As beautiful as the offering trays are, I would say that these more personal gifts are even better. There is a simple and respectful feel to it, and you can tell that for the most part, the students genuinely mean and feel what they are doing.
After the official and more scripted part of the ceremony, the school president left, but had some time to chat with a few of the seniors who were in the front row of the auditorium. He had a great sense of humor after the whole serious part of the ceremony was done, as you will see a bit later.
Now, for people who have wondered, selfie culture has permeated Thailand as much as it has covered the United States.
The ceremony was both beautiful and moving. It is rare that a thing like this actually makes me feel better about my job, but leaving Wai Khru I was more energized and motivated.
Thailand really knows how to do teacher appreciation the right way.
Sure beats a Pen with Hawaii State Teacher Association written on the side.