I have worked with, befriended, and volunteered for teachers and educators for the last 23 years. Teachers are some of my favorite people in the world. For this reason, as a public service I have asked a plethora of teachers what gifts they truly enjoy receiving from their students and their families as a holiday gift and I’ve prepared this list for you. I’m going to give it to you straight, so they don’t have to – because the last thing they want to do is seem ungrateful — but, there are some specific items they truly enjoy being gifted, and some they (generally) truly do not. So, if you want to be (reasonably) certain your gift will be a hit this season, read on.
Note: As with any list like this, there may be exceptions. If you know firsthand from the teacher that they like something I recommend avoiding, or dislike something I recommend gifting, by all means – take the teacher at their word. However, when in doubt, this list should help the vast majority of families (and teachers) out.
What Teachers Do NOT Want:
Mugs: They likely have a collection that spans beyond the cabinet space not only in their home kitchen, but possibly their classroom cabinet space as well. A LOT of them get donated. Mugs are amongst the top 3 items mentioned as a “please don’t buy” item.
Perfumes/Fragranced Items: Unless you know specifically what scent a teacher really enjoys, or that they enjoy fragrances at all, it’s best to skip this. When it comes to scents, tastes run the gambit and taking a guess is risky. Some teachers shared that they avoid fragranced products altogether due to either their own allergies, or students in their class who are allergic. This is a please don’t item.
Extravagant or Expensive Gifts: This can get awkward for teachers for a number of reasons. First of all, it could cause embarrassment for other students unable to give a gift financially, or giving a smaller gift. Students may worry about favoritism toward their classmates who gave a larger gift. And, in some school districts, there is a maximum gift value amount that teachers are allowed to accept. So, even if your child’s teacher might enjoy a $500 gift card to Best Buy, accepting such a gift is likely disallowed and sure to cause discomfort for your recipient.
Homemade Treats/Food: This one is a bit controversial. I myself have given homemade treats in the past, (mostly with educators I knew quite well) and was slightly sad when I realized this was a no-go. However, when a teacher explained that most handmade treats sadly end up tossed and uneaten due to the following factors, the full picture became quite clear and I definitely get it now. 1.) Your child’s teacher sees your first grader when they pick their nose, and then proceed to touch everything around them. If they “help” you bake with those same habits, or maybe they lick the spoons they stirred food with, well… you get the idea. 2.) Kids are incredibly honest and reveal a lot about home life with their teachers and class. (Sorry, but it’s true.) So, if they’re talking about how the family cat won’t stop counter surfing in the kitchen, or the dog won’t stop licking the food on the counters, your child’s teacher is probably going to be less than confident about kitchen sanitation as well. 3.) Finally, general food-related common sense reason – allergies, food preferences, unknown ingredients, special dietary needs, etc. In general, even if you love to bake with your kids around the holidays, it’s probably best to save the homemade goods for family and personal friends.
Personalized Things: Desk accessories, monogrammed costume jewelry, hats, t-shirts, pencil cups, ornaments, a notebook with their name on it, stationary, etc. Odds are, they have these items that they already love and chose based on their preferences and needs, and having to store more that they don’t find as purposeful is less a gift, and more a burden. Plus, if your child is especially excited about the gift and they don’t see their teaching using it, they might be disappointed or hurt. (Yikes.) Avoid. Avoid.
What Teachers DO Want:
A sincere, personal note from your child and/or you about the things they are doing well, things that have been positive experiences in class, special memories made during the school year, or simply that you think they’re doing a great job. This can be on a card, in a letter, or even an email. Emails can be easily saved electronically or printed, so teachers can reference them again on a tough day, to remind them how appreciated and valuable they truly are to their students. This gift is the least expensive gift at all, but by far the #1 most beloved and requested. (Bonus: send a copy to, cc, or write a separate email to the Principal telling them how much you appreciate your child’s teacher, and the ways they have made the year great so far!)
A gift card – it does not have to be big, but it should be from somewhere they can shop either for themselves, or their class (Amazon, WalMart, Target – think wide selection, easy to access) or a special place you know they frequent. (Starbucks, a favorite restaurant or bakery, movie passes) Gift cards can be used and enjoyed during a teacher’s winter break, they don’t require long term storage, space, or maintenance, and they allow a teacher to save their own money and get something they’d like to have.
Something they specifically have said they like/could use. If you’re not sure what to get – it’s ok to ask! “We’d like to give you a token of our appreciation this holiday season, and are already planning to do so – where is a place you’d enjoy having a gift card to over your break?” Some parents like to give teachers a preference questionnaire at the beginning of the school year asking them about things like their favorite snacks, candy, things they love to have in the classroom, etc. If you have access to such a list with their responses, get something from that list.
You can also ask if there’s something that their class or the school could really benefit from having that you could get as a holiday gift in their honor, or that you could coordinate having multiple parents pitch in small amounts toward? Finally, if your child’s teacher has an Amazon Wishlist, ask for the link and choose something to purchase from the list. Amazon will automatically ship it to their designated address (whether it be work or home).
And that’s it. Really. Their top 3 wants are incredibly simple, and they reiterate them constantly (and for many years, will still give huge smiles to you and your little ones if you give a mug, because they truly do appreciate your appreciation). However, if you can choose a gift from their top 3, it’s certain to brighten their holiday season, and it may even cost you much less than you would think necessary to truly make their year.
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