Friday, December 9th, 2011

“Give Chalk, Not Tchotchkes”
If You’re Giving a Teacher Gift this Year

Teacher Christmas gift ideas should be about restocking classroom supplies, not gift trinkets!

Growing up with both parents teachers at an urban public high school in California, I saw first-hand the impact that education budget cuts can have on teachers. My dad taught graphic arts, and frequently dug into his own pocket to keep his classroom supplied with printing equipment, inks, paper, and later, even desktop computers. Funding for vocational classes like his all but disappeared as higher-ups decided every student should be on a college track. To get the funds to keep his class relevant, my dad worked weekends and evenings printing brochures, newsletters, flyers, and T-Shirts for local businesses, plowing the proceeds back into classroom supplies.

My first “job” was screenprinting thousands of T-shirts for a local housing developer; I earned minimum wage but the classroom gained two new computers. Even many years later my dad still runs into students who thank him for what they learned in his class. Some are former gang members, or recent immigrants who barely spoke English — not typical college track — but they’ve been able to find good jobs in printing or graphic design thanks to having learned real world skills on up-to-date equipment.

The “Great Recession” Erased Many Teachers’ Budgets for Classroom Supplies
So it comes as no surprise to me to hear that many teachers are responding to draconian budget cuts by using their own money to purchase classroom supplies. As school districts across the country (CA, PA, OH, FL, NY, GA, ID, VA, HI, KS, and more…) contend with reduced funding, few classrooms are fully equipped with essentials like books, office supplies, craft materials, games, paints, puzzles, science projects and more.

At the same time, despite the clear preferences of teachers to the contrary, many well-intentioned (and equally cash-strapped) parents spend money buying the kinds of trinkets and knick-knacks that are frequently marketed as the “perfect holiday gifts for teachers“. Teachers don’t expect to receive Christmas gifts from their students, but in many schools it’s a fun tradition and a way for students (and parents) to show their appreciation.

Give the Gift Teachers Appreciate Most
I’ve yet to meet a teacher who would prefer an apple trinket or yet another coffee mug to school supplies, books, project materials, or other gifts that would benefit their entire classroom. Giving classroom supplies as a gift is better than traditional “teacher gifts” in several ways:

  • There’s no need to worry about what the teacher likes and doesn’t like; they need this stuff
  • It’s a gift that benefits the entire classroom, including your own kids
  • Giving to the class rather than to the teacher avoids the muddled legal boundaries surrounding gifts and public employees
  • Nothing better communicates that you respect and appreciate the work the teachers are doing than giving a gift that helps them do it better

This year, if you’re in the fortunate position to be able to afford to have your kids take a Christmas gift to school for their teachers, consider ignoring the cute gift shop marketing, and instead gifting something much more practical, like classroom supplies.

If classroom supplies don’t seem like the most exciting gift idea to you, try these tips to turn even the most “boring” holiday present like a gift card or a box of paper and pencils into something unique and personalized that is fun both to give and to receive:

  • Accompany the gift with an handmade thank you note created and signed by your child. It costs nothing, and teachers love receiving things made by their students. Many teachers say that the most meaningful gifts they’ve ever received have been simple thank you notes.
  • Try making your own “School Supplies Gift Basket” starting with a simple basket and filling it with essentials like pencils, whiteboard markers, construction paper, erasers, hand sanitizer and the like. Try making a fun spiral pattern or line pencils around the edges like a castle. Your kids can probably help with the creativity part ; )
  • Consider offering some of your unique skills along with (or in place of) supplies. For example, if you’re a sculptor, you might donate some modeling clay and also offer to do a demonstration for the class.

Finally, if you support the idea of “Chalk, Not Tchotchkes”, please consider spreading the word by sharing this post on Twitter or Facebook or wherever your virtual friends hang out.

This holiday season, give chalk, not tchotchkes!

  • Consider having your child bring a personal thank you card rather than a gift
  • Ask his or her teacher which supplies are most needed
  • Many PTAs coordinate teacher wish lists
  • Consider volunteering a few hours of your time instead of spending money
  • Donations of used books, electronics, art supplies and school supplies are generally appreciated
  • Many schools prohibit gifts of food items – ask first!
  • As government employees, many teachers are prohibited from accepting personal gifts. Give to the class instead!

Most requested supplies:

See more of the most requested teaching supplies organized by grade level and subject area.


INFOGRAPHIC DATA SOURCES:,8599,2024437,00.html

Special Thanks to St Louis graphic designer Blue Canary Design for the awesome art!

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