Getting Practical About Teacher Gifts

BlogHer Original Post

The remarkable people who teach my children deserve giantic, generous gifts for Christmas--maybe a new laptop tied with a big, red bow, with a gift card to a spa tucked in for good measure?

That's what they deserve. But I have four kids, all with multiple teachers (I am including, of course, PE teacher, librarian, computer lab helper, and the school nurse. WE MUSN'T FORGET THE SCHOOL NURSE. My accident-prone children have spent so much time there--one even set a school record for number of visits in one day--that it feels like she should be getting a cut of my health insurance premiums.)

Add to that the soccer coaches, bus driver, crossing guard, ballet teachers, etc. etc., and there are a lot of people investing in my children, all richly deserving of some recognition at the holiday season. But I have no budget for laptops and spa gift cards. I want to be thoughtful in my gift-giving to these fine people, but I also have to be sensible.

So I did some very scientific research on the subject of how to accomplish this best. I e-mailed people (and that is scientific, because there was a computer involved)--current teachers, past ones, principals, friends who teach, etc. Their advice on the subject was excellent, and I'll highlight a few of the things they had to say. There were several recurring themes:

1. Not all teachers collect apple-ish, chalkboard-ish, school-themed items. In fact, many don't. The apple ornament that bears the word: "To teach is to touch a life forever"? Yes, well, she probably got eight of those last year. Think outside the box. Or apple. Instead, take a little time to find out what she does collect or enjoy. The cardinal rule of gift-giving is to give others what they'd like, not what you think they should like.

2. Ditto with the mugs. There are only so many coffee mugs a human can own.

3. Personal notes from parents and teachers mean a lot. Truly personal notes, from your heart. Not just, "Thanks for your hard work," but "thank you for spending so much of your personal time helping Johnny develop his organizing skills this year. It's made a difference, and he we knew he's in better shape for 4th grade next year because of you." Teaching is often a thankless job, and teachers hear many complaints from parents. Be the exception, and write a letter telling your child's teachers what they've done well. "It's the kind of thing I save forever," one teacher friend told me.

4. Spending a lot of money is not necessary. Of the many teachers I heard from, not a one of them mentioned, "Gee, I wish these kids would pony up and buy me an iPod." On the contrary, they all expressed acknowledgement that budgets are tight. Several said it's very meaningful to them when the entire class pitches in a couple of dollars each and buys a gift certificate to the teacher's favorite restaurant.

5. Small gift cards are great, too. A $5 gift card to Starbucks or Blockbuster may seem small, but if a teacher gets 10 of those dealies, he'll be set.

6. Homemade baked goods are generally a hit. Of course, you need to take into account your teacher's preferences (and allergies!), but most teachers expressed a fondness for personal gifts like these. One teacher wrote to me that some of her best recipes have come from the gifts her parents have made. In fact (shhhh...), this year for my kids' teachers/coaches/etc. I'm planning to package up this in mason jars. This stuff is so unbelievably good your eyes will roll back in your head. I made a test batch last month, just to be sure, and I ate it. ALL. My stomach hurt for a week, but it was worth it. For another idea, consider making hot drink mixes. I actually did a post about this at Work-It Mom last week; you can see the recipes here.

7. Office supplies are practical and thoughtful. School district budgets often don't allow money for teachers to stay stocked up on pens and notepads other office supplies, so they have to do this at their own expense. Consider packaging up a small batch of these things, tied with a bow. If that sounds like a dull gift to you, then you need to come spend some time in my universe, where office supplies are THE most exciting thing that can happen. Seriously, buy me a new bag of pens, and I am strangely entertained for a week.

With the holidays looming, plenty of other bloggers are writing about this subject:

Sew, Mama, Sew! has made a list of some of their simpler hand-made projects, all of which would make lovely gifts for teachers.

Dance Advantage shares a list of ideas on the subject of teachers gifts, including the generous of idea of making charitable donations in a teacher's name.

Susan Cramer of Suite101 has written Holiday Gifts For the Teachers In Your Life, including a list of what not to get.

What are you giving your kids' teachers this year? Have any creative ideas? If you're a schoolteacher yourself, do you have any additional input you'd like to share?

Shannon Lowe is a BlogHer contributing editor (Mommy/Family). She also blogs at Rocks In My Dryer and The Parenting Post.

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