Monday, November 16th, 2009

A Word of Advice…

Choosing a Christmas Gift for a Teacher

Welcome to the Christmas Gifts for Teachers project! My goal in creating this website is to help parents (and their children) give their teachers gifts that will truly be appreciated and cherished.

“‘Apple’ themed gifts should be outlawed! Oh sure, there are a few teachers (and I do mean “few”) who enjoy the stereotypical apple/teacher ornament, but the majority of us would rather pass. Our homes are not decked out in apple motifs, and neither are our classrooms. This is one cliche that has outlived whatever usefulness it once had.”       ~Kimberly

Do People Really Need Help Choosing A Gift for Teachers?

In my opinion, yes. Parents waste a lot of money every year on trinkets and clichéd gifts that teachers can’t really use and may not even keep. Perhaps in no other type of gift-giving is there such a large disconnect between gift-giver and recipient. Let me explain further…

Disclaimer: I’d like to say upfront that I am a former teacher, both of my parents were teachers, and many of my friends are teachers. Therefore, I’m writing this website from the teacher’s perspective, which may focus on the
practical a bit more than some creative gift-givers might like. I don’t want to sound cynical or devalue sentimental gifts, but time and again the feedback I’ve heard from teachers regarding gifts is that the gifts they most appreciate are the ones that provide an immediate value for their classrooms or their own lives.

That’s not to say that homemade gifts, personalized gifts, or the typical teacher appreciation gifts aren’t welcomed, but some teachers have been collecting such gifts for many years (think 30 students times 2-3 gift giving occasions (Christmas, end-of-year, Teacher Appreciation Week, etc.) times X number of years teaching = a LOT of gifts!), and while a few particularly sentimental teachers treasure every one, most seem to prefer practical, consumable gifts.

In part, this preference is because budgetary constraints are a real issue for most teachers. They don’t earn a lot of money, so “simple pleasures” like a night out at a nice restaurant, or an hour at the spa, are a big deal. Worse, recent cutbacks in educational funding mean that teachers who want to provide a decent experience for their students end up spending many thousands of dollars of their own money on classroom supplies.

“Teachers often have to pay for supplies out of their own pockets, so a gift certificate to an office supply store is always welcome!”       ~Kristen

One example: my father taught Graphic Arts for over 40 years. As the budget for high school vocational classes shrank year-after-year, he ended up working a number of outside jobs so that he could keep the equipment in his classroom up to date, at a cost of tens of thousands of dollars. My suggestion is to keep this perspective in mind when choosing a gift, and look for ways to combine practicality (gift certificates, supplies, consumables) AND sentimentality (genuinely heart-felt notes of appreciation, creative presentation, etc.).

Three Easy Steps to Choosing the Perfect Gift:

So, how can you avoid the kitsch and clichés, and give a gift that is both practical/ beneficial and heartfelt/ personal/ unique? It’s as easy as 1-2-3:

  1. Are there any school policies on gifts or other constraints to be aware of?
    Sad as it is, in this day and age some schools don’t allow teachers to eat homemade foods, or share them with their class. Some schools prohibit teachers from accepting gifts deemed too valuable. Others coordinate “class gifts” through the Parent-Teacher association. Other constraints: if a teacher is on a diet, that box of chocolates may be less welcome. A gourmet coffee gift basket may not be a great gift if their religion forbids consumption of caffeine. If in doubt about your school’s policies on gift-giving, contact the school or the parent-teacher association to find out.
  2. How well do you know the teacher?
    If you or your child has a special relationship with the teacher, then it may be appropriate to give a bigger gift. For example, a teacher who has gone out of his/ her way to provide extra tutoring to your child, or supported him/her in an extracurricular activity, might be a good candidate for some extra appreciation. Make sure to include a personal note telling them why you thought their contribution was so important!
  3. Teacher’s Needs and Interests?
    Look around when you visit on parent-teacher night: does the teacher display lots of handmade childrens’ items or other sentimental/ decorative items, or is the classroom “all business”? Some teachers treasure every gift they receive for decades to come, while others “recycle” them every year. Finding out about a teacher’s personal interests can be a great source of gift ideas: A coffee cup, a tennis racket behind the desk, or books on the bookshelf may provide helpful clues. Finally, look at the kinds of supplies used in the classroom — chances are, if there are many craft projects, the teacher is spending their own money to buy at least some of the supplies. Anything that might need a refill?

“Please, no more lotions, soaps, and candles. While teachers do like to pamper themselves, most of us have a huge surplus of these items because the bath and body type stores push them as “great teacher gifts.” My husband has put a moratorium on lotion and candle buying – I have too much of the stuff as it is. I will be well moisturized and freshly scented well into my next life.”       ~Kimberlee

More Tips on Choosing Holiday Gifts for Teachers:

  • Gift traditions vary depending on the grade your child is in. It’s more common to buy gifts for teachers in younger grades, such as elementary school (where children probably only have one teacher). In middle school and high school, consider getting smaller gifts (eg, $5 gift card and a thank you note) for each teacher, or just buy gifts for the teachers that you feel particularly close to, such as those who have provided extra help for your student, or advise them in extracurricular activities.
  • Think twice before getting a clichéd gift such as “apple for teacher” motif items, “#1 teacher” coffee mug, or even candles and lotions. Some teachers who get a lot of gifts (eg, teachers of younger grades who have been teaching for a while) may have way too many of such items already (eg, see above quote from teacher Kimberlee). Consider something more unique like a gift card, a certificate for a meal out, an inspiring book or movie, or something pertaining to one of the teacher’s interests. See our suggested Christmas gifts for teachers list for more ideas.
  • Don’t feel obligated to buy a gift if you’re not in a financial position to do so comfortably, or if you’re not particularly fond of your child’s teacher. Teachers are generally appreciative of any recognition or thanks that they receive, but they’re not expecting you to buy them a gift.
  • I believe generous teacher gifts provide us with the opportunity — but not the obligation — to give extra thanks to a teacher who is going out of their way to do a particularly good job. Many people give similar thank you gifts to our secretaries, building concierge, travel gifts, law students, accountant, boaters, etc. — isn’t educating our children also a job worthy of a personal thank you?
  • It’s usually a good idea to avoid personal gifts — items like clothing, perfume, jewellery, etc. — unless you happen to know the teacher very well.
  • Don’t forget, the most important thing is expressing your appreciation. Teachers are just like any other employees: they want to be respected and to know that their work is valued– and it would be nice to hear it from adults from time to time! Buying a gift for a teacher (particularly one that they will truly benefit from) is just a way of letting them know that you respect them and appreciate the work that they’re doing for your children.

“Every year I get many many thoughtful gifts from my little 6th graders. Most often I get baked goods or gift cards, but sometimes I get the typical “teacher gift.” A bracelet with apples on it… A “World’s Best Teacher” mug… A keychain with an apple on it… I am NOT complaining, but sometimes I’d rather get a nice card instead of something I will never use.”     ~Jill O. Sixth Grade Teacher

How much to spend on a Christmas Gift for a Teacher?

The “right” amount to spend on a teacher depends primarily on how close you are to the teacher, and how much gratitude you want to express for their work. Some people think of gifts for teachers like tips for wait staff — they are a thank you for a job well done, and thus (in part at least) depend on how much you appreciate the teacher’s contribution.

Other factors to consider in determining how much to spend on a gift for a teacher is the age of your student (most parents spend more on elementary school teachers, when students have only one teacher), local traditions (in some districts, gift-giving at school is a big tradition and something that everyone participates in generously, in other districts it is hardly done), and school policies on gift giving. Assuming it is not in violation of school policy, I personally would have no qualms about spending up to $50 on a gift for a teacher who I felt made a special contribution to my child’s education. A “class gift” may be $100 or more, based upon a contribution of a few dollars per student. However, a more typical gift amount is probably around $5-$20, though there are also many great gifts available for under $5 which will still be very much appreciated.

CBS News Advice on Gifts for Teachers:

Think outside the box. PLEASE no more coffee mugs, plaques with cute sayings, or Christmas ornaments. A teacher can have only so much of those. Gift certificates really are appreciated – manicures, spa treatments, restaurants, recipe book/baking utensils, book stores, craft stores, teacher stores. Alot of teachers spend their own money on classroom stuff and stuff for their students and neglect themselves so something they ordinarily would buy/do for themselves is a real gift. If you need to buy something, buy something useful to package a gift certificate in. (Like a measuring cup to put a gift card to a cooking store…) It’s also nice to go in with a few others so the gift can be a larger amount :-)       ~L.C.

Suggested Gift Ideas for Teachers

Ready to get started finding that perfect gift? I’ve asked a number of teachers which gifts they’ve most appreciated over the years — and which they wished they had received — to come up with these lists of teacher gift ideas. Of course don’t just blindly select something off one of the lists: keep the preceding advice in mind, and always look for ways to combine practicality with sentimentality. To help you find the perfect gift, I’ve organized the gift ideas according to recipient, type of gift, and occasion:

Teacher Gifts by Recipient:

  • Music Teacher Gifts
  • Sunday School Teacher Gifts
  • Daycare Teacher Gifts
  • Gifts for New Teachers
  • Gifts for Principals
  • Gifts for Professors
  • Male Teacher
  • Female Teacher
  • Young Teacher

Teacher Gifts by Type:

  • Personalized Teacher Gifts
  • Teacher Mugs
  • Teacher Tote Bag
  • Unique Teacher Gifts
  • Handmade Teacher Gifts
  • Best Teacher Gifts

Teacher Gifts by Occasion:

  • Teacher Appreciation Gifts
  • Teacher Christmas Gifts
  • End of Year Teacher Gifts
  • Teacher Thank-You Gifts
  • Teacher Retirement Gift

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4 Responses

November 30, 2011
A Great Place


This is a great site to refer to others! I am a retired teacher and business owner (Educational Consulting Services) and I plan to visit you again! :)

Have a blessed Holiday Season,