Before I had children (and for a little while when we only had Nicholas), I was an elementary school teacher. I taught first grade, spent a few years as a gifted specialist teaching math and science to 3rd-5th graders, then I taught second grade. Then a few years later, I briefly went back into the classroom as a middle school teacher. I’ve taught in very affluent and very low-income areas. Teachers usually do not expect gifts from any of their students, but in my experience, families often want to give but sometimes struggle with ideas.
While I was a gifted specialist, I had about ninety students on my caseload. Because we were in a very well-to-do area, I received many gifts from the generous families of my students around the holidays.
I was always very grateful to receive any sort of gift, but have you ever tried to find space in your home for 75 new mugs or candles? It can be a little overwhelming. Especially if you got 63 the year before.
I thought it might be helpful if I put together a list of the best and worst gifts to give a teacher. I truly hope I’m not offending anyone. I don’t mean for this to come off as at all ungrateful, but I know parents often struggle with gift ideas for teachers and I hope this list helps a little. These opinions are based on my own experience and observation and might vary from the opinions of other teachers. I’m not here to judge, just offering suggestions. No worries, if you did give your teacher a mug or a candle, I promise she still loves it and feels very appreciated.
Everybody still on board? Okay, here we go:
1. Books. A nice book with a handwritten note inside the cover is one of the very best gifts. Don’t worry about if your teacher already has that particular book, I know I liked keeping multiple copies in my classroom library. I not-so-humbly suggest the one I wrote. 🙂
2. Stationery or classroom supplies. One of the most useful gifts I ever received was a beautiful set of thank you cards. I spent a lot of time writing thank yous for all those lovely gifts and other things throughout the year. I also used quite a bit of regular stationery sending notes to parents, students, and other faculty members.
3. Gift cards. Whether it is a $5 gift card to Starbucks or a $20 gift card to the office supply store, gift cards are always appreciated. Teachers spend a lot of their own money on classroom supplies. It’s nice to have a little to spend on ourselves or to splurge on the class without taking money away from our own families.
4. A class gift. It is always very special when the room mom collects donations and the entire class pulls together for one larger, personalized gift. It could be an apron with everyone’s hand print, a framed class photo where everyone wrote a note around the matting, or a certificate for a spa where I never would have splurged on myself. These gifts show a lot of thought, make me feel loved, and make everyone feel included-even those students who can’t afford to donate.
5. Just a card. A thoughtful, hand-written note in a card, maybe with a wallet sized photo of your child, is the type of gift I will save for years, long after the mugs are broken and the candles are burned.
6. Store bought food. I once had a parent drop off a breakfast sandwich and hot chocolate from a nearby restaurant about 20 minutes before our school day started, which I thought was very sweet. Girl scout cookies are also pretty sweet.
7. Ornaments. This one is touchy. If a teacher has been teaching for 20 years, she probably has amassed quite a collection and might not be as enthusiastic about them, but ornaments were one of my very favorite gifts. I truly loved my job and my students and I like having the reminders of them on our tree at home every year.
8. A magazine subscription. I would have loved a subscription to Highlights, Time for Kids, Ranger Rick, Zoo Books, etc. for our classroom. The cool thing about this gift is that it is not very expensive and it keeps giving for an entire year.
*Before I start this section, I need to say that there is really no such thing as a “worst” gift to give a teacher. Any gift from the heart is a great gift. But in the interest of practicality and being honest, I have included some of the most common least favorites.
1. Mugs. I literally have hundreds of mugs. I feel bad donating them because each one reminds me of the special student who gave it to me.
2. Candles. Similar to mugs, but while I can use mugs in the classroom, I can only burn candles at home and I already have enough to get me through the next several years worth of power outages.
3. Homemade food. This is hard to say because it hurts people’s feelings. I know you worked hard to make this. I know you are “famous” for these cookies. I’m not allowed to have them in my classroom because I have students with allergies. To be honest, I will probably take them to the faculty room and they might not be eaten there either. Unless I know you personally, I am reluctant to eat your food or take it home to my family. If we have recently “had words” because you disagreed with a grade I gave your child, I *might* be slightly afraid you are trying to poison me. (That’s a joke.)
4. Jewelry. There are some very nice, personalized pieces from Etsy stores that I’m sure teachers would love to receive, but for the most part the jewelry we get is holiday themed, costume pieces or dress-up jewelry from Claire’s. Then we feel obligated to wear it to work so that the students see how much we “love” their gifts. I’d rather not sit in a training meeting with my boss’s boss after school or an IEP meeting with other parents with plastic, blinking Santa hats hanging next to my face because a.) it’s unprofessional and b.) It’s January because I did not receive this gift until the last school day of December. But I’m still going to wear it with a smile anyway, for the sake of your child.
5. Cash. This is very awkward for the receiver. While a $5 gift card to Starbucks with a cute note saying that I should treat myself feels thoughtful, opening a card and finding $5 in cash makes me feel like I’m the third grader in this scenario. Larger amounts of cash can feel like a bribe, and the school board would frown upon me if I accepted it.
Well, there you have it. Do you have anything to add to either list?
P.S. If you want to see some truly bad gifts, check out this list of the worst possible holiday gifts from Divine Secrets of a Domestic Diva.
UPDATE: A few readers requested that I update this post to gently suggest that before you spend the time, money, and energy to make something you saw on Pinterest, like a tire-sized wreath made out of crayons, please consider the practicality of the gift and whether or not you would use it in your own home.