The holidays are quickly approaching. If you haven’t appreciated your child’s teacher(s) before, you probably do now. After the 2020 that we’ve all had, we can agree that teachers are deserving of our appreciation more than ever.
Many people worry about the cost of gift-giving without realizing you can get a gift for your child’s teacher without breaking the bank. As a teacher myself, I’ll share some insider tips that will give you some insight into leaving your child’s teacher(s) happy.
Gifts to avoid
If you ever attend a rummage sale from a teacher, you will usually see a collection of items that students (and parents) should avoid giving.
Unless your teacher is newer than 5 years in the classroom, most teachers have a hefty collection of coffee cups/mugs. I have received a few in my years teaching that will stay with me until they break because of the person who gave it to me or the circumstances around the gift. I had one student, Amber, whose exterior was tough as nails, but after a while, she softened and excelled.
Shortly before her graduation, she brought me a bag and said, “I saw this stupid stuff and picked it up.” It was a coffee cup with Best Teacher written on it and one of the sweetest notes I’ve ever received. I’ll never get rid of that mug. However, most teachers have enough cups/mugs to start a coffee shop, and none of those will compare to the one a teacher uses almost daily.
Unless you own a restaurant or catering business where you prepared a specialty meal, please do not make food for a teacher. Right now, food is not something we want to share, but even when we’re not in the middle of a pandemic, food is not appropriate to bring to a teacher. It puts teachers in an uncomfortable position when you send food with your kid, too.
A multicultural fair or a non-traditional environment is usually more appropriate. I had one adult student, Martha, who hopes to open a restaurant or catering business. She made cakes for projects and welcomed us to eat them.
She also made tamales for us, which we all loved. Consider, however, that most kids will bring food and show it off to everyone. That container is going to be opened and closed, smelled and contaminated over and over again.
Unless you are an expert blacksmith or woodworker, you should probably avoid any homemade gifts. If you make a macaroni picture for a teacher, it’s going to be on display for as long as the teacher can stand it before it goes directly in the trash.
Teachers don’t need your crafts so keep them at home. There is a caveat that I note below. Many of my students are amazing artists. If they make me something, I keep it.
Unless you are buying an apron for an art teacher, there are no circumstances where clothes are appropriate. It doesn’t matter if you know the teacher’s size or can draw a conclusion. It’s weird and makes the teacher uncomfortable.
Anything that requires care
Unless it falls in the categories below, avoid gifts that require care. Teachers are busy all the time and exhausted even more often. Plants, class pets, etc. take more time, effort, and energy than a gift should take.
5 Useful Gifts for Teachers under $10
The following 5 gift ideas all cost less than $10, and they are all actually gifts teachers enjoy and will use.
Here’s the thing about gift cards: they can be great or a nightmare. If you get a gift card, find a place that you know your teacher will actually visit. Also, make sure the gift card amount will not require the teacher to pay anything.
For example, if you get a $5 gift card for Starbucks, the teacher will have to get a smaller drink in order to not pay. If you get a $5 gift card for Amazon, the teacher will easily be able to get something.
If possible, also make sure the gift card doesn’t have a rapidly-approaching expiration date. Teachers are busy, so those with expiration dates can expire before we get to them.
Teachers are creatures of habit. We have favorite supplies: pens, pencils, notebooks, folders. If you can find that favorite thing, get it, but make sure it is exact.
For example, I love Pentel Energel .7 blue ink pens. I don’t like the black ink. I don’t like thinner or thicker points. And I definitely don’t like any other brands.
Pay attention to what your teacher is using and his or her reaction when using it. If he or she grabs a worn folder with a sad, nostalgic look, it’s probably a favorite folder that could be replaced. Sometimes, the best supplies are expensive, so don’t be afraid to get a single item instead of a pair.
Related: Useful Gift Ideas under $25
Students get to know their teachers over a period of time, so they might recognize a nuance that is specific and special for that teacher. Perhaps he/she collects salt and pepper shakers. Maybe he/she loves traveling to Tennessee’s mountains. If your student pays close attention, he or she can usually pick up something special that shows real consideration.
Try to make sure it still has use or value when possible.
While a macaroni picture is going into the trash, personal notes or letters from students go in a safe and special place. I get these out on occasion and reread them. This can also include drawings if your kid is an artist. I usually collect and display student artwork throughout the semester or year (depending on how much I get and how often I need to clear my wall). I also had a student who bought me a frame where I could display and change the artwork. That was a perfect gift.
Calendar or computer supplies
Calendars and computers are used heavily by most teachers. This gift is similar to buying a mom a kitchen or household item for Christmas, so consider this option last. But perhaps your teacher could use a mousepad. Maybe you have a wireless mouse that you got as a gift but don’t need. Calendars are also handy to have, but calendars are much like other supplies: we are very particular. Pay attention to what already exists and the teacher’s reaction to it.
The right gift
Another consideration is to talk to other parents and pool funds together to get the teacher a larger gift. $10 isn’t much to pitch in, but it won’t go as far as $100. Teachers do not expect gifts, but they are nice to receive.
No matter what you decide to get the teachers in your life, they will appreciate your generosity, acknowledgement, and thoughtfulness.
Martha Warner is a writer, editor, and educator. As a single mom for many years, Martha knows the value of money, how to work hard, and how to hustle. Her freelance career started as a side hustle (to support her love of travel) and quickly grew into the most lucrative career she’s ever had. Martha still teaches at the university as well as other online and in-person courses, including Writing to Make Money, College Scholarship Writing, and Write that Grant. Find out more about her on her website.