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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

7 Tips for Teacher Holiday Gifts

7 Tips for Teacher Holiday Gifts

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The holidays are coming up quickly and, if you’re like me, the perennial question looms large: “What am I going to give the kids’ teachers?” I want to recognize their hard work and celebrate the half-way mark in the year, but I don’t have unlimited time (or money) to come up with just the right thing. What’s a harried-but-well-intentioned-gift-giver to do?

1. Be aware. Are there religious, culture, or economic issues that will make gift giving awkward? Are there events like parties, book exchanges, or canned food drives that take the place of gifts? If you’re uncertain, check with the school for policies around gift giving.
2. Work together for maximum impact and fun: Organize one class gift to the teacher, given by all the students and funded through a “donate what you can” email.
3. Think beyond the apple. Teachers don’t need more “teacher stuff.” Step away from the “Teachers Have Class” and “A+ Teacher” mugs, hangings, ornaments, ties and scarves. There’s a reason why those items are marked down- or on the ”Free” table at yard sales.
4. Think personal, not professional. Avoid gifts that are donations to the classroom rather than tokens for the teacher. This is your opportunity to encourage him to take some time to rest and recharge.
5. Gift cards are your friend- but they’re not all created equal. Do a little detective work (or just ask) and find out what stores, restaurants or services the teacher enjoys.
6. Avoid homemade goodies. It only took one Hepatitis A outbreak to make me leery of eating something that was made in someone else’s home. Also: Food Allergies. You don’t want your legacy to be “That winter break where we had to rush Susie to the ER because the cookies from M’s mom had the wrong kind of chocolate chips in them.”
7. Budget too tight? Write a thank you note- a sincere one- noting specific things you appreciate about the work your child’s teacher has done. Have your child write one, too, and tuck it inside. I know a lot of teachers who cherish their “bad day file,” filled with small notes reminding them that what they do does matter, even when things aren’t going well.

What are you favorite teacher gifts- to give and to receive? What other advice would you add?

This post was created by a member of Edutopia's community. If you have your own #eduawesome tips, strategies, and ideas for improving education, share them with us.

Comments (7) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

Kevin Jarrett's picture
Kevin Jarrett
Teaching Middle School 'Technology, Engineering & Design' in Northfield, NJ

Hi Laura! We always gave gift cards - universally appreciated, easy to get and deliver - and as a recipient, I most often get homemade goodies. I've never had an issue with something bad and I enjoy the personal touches that accompany the tasty treats. That said, I love getting gift cards too. At the end of the day though, it's literally the thought that counts!


Dan Callahan's picture
Dan Callahan
Professional Learning Specialist, Edcamper, Graduate Professor

As a teacher, I've always either appreciated the gift cards or a gift that comes from the child knowing me well (Spider-Man stuff ALWAYS appreciated).

One thing that's interesting to me because I've never had students where this is an issue, but you also need to be aware of limits to gift-giving in your state laws. In Massachusetts, there's a $50 gift limit per year That seems like a good amount, but for parents who give gifts at both holiday time and the end of the school year, they may place the teacher in an awkward position with the law without intending to.

Whitney Hoffman's picture
Whitney Hoffman
Producer LD Podcast, Digital Media Consultant, Author

I know this has been a particularly sticky issue over time- trying to do the right thing, without doing the same thing everyone else does. My mother in law ran a preschool years ago, and I think she's still working through all the Bath & Bodyworks baskets she got, and Yankee Candles. (After the fourth basket, you start to worry that maybe people are saying something about your personal hygiene!)
When my son graduated last year, we gave a few special teachers who went above and beyond (his advisor, his resource room teacher) a gift certificate to a nice local restaurant so they could have a really nice time out with their spouses, and made sure to invite them to the grad party, to be able to include them as part of our extended family. They said that sort of thing isn't happening as much any more, so I put that "include them in events" in my 'gift' idea pile as well.
I think the gift card is probably the best idea- whether it's to Barnes & Noble, Amazon, Starbucks, or someplace you know they shop- it's useful, and I hope helps them find something they love, without saying "I didn't take the time to think of something more special for you." That's the part I worry about. Dan- do gift cards ever seem like an afterthought rather than trying to be sensitive and thoughtful?

Becky Fisher's picture
Becky Fisher
Education Consultant

I agree that gift cards are the way to go. Amazon is always a winner in my book (if that's a pun, I intended it). But I also was always so grateful for the thoughtful cards and notes that contained personal messages of gratitude. I also loved getting hand made treasures from my students. One year I got a matching necklace, bracelet, and ring, from students of mine who happened to be triplets. They all played instruments and took private lessons with me. Instead of a big fancy gift, they used a jewelry kit they had and made me a matching set. I was so overwhelmed by the thoughtfulness.

But if parents are gathering to purchase a classroom teacher a present, a gift card is always at the top of my list.

Jane Pitts's picture
Jane Pitts
Parent of middle schoolers

I am happy to read that educators appreciate receiving gift cards and do not feel they are an impersonal gift choice. From a practical standpoint I have always purchased gift cards for my children's teachers, because I felt it would allow teachers the most personal choice option among all the other gifts they may receive. I always have my children each write at least a four sentence note to their teacher(s) in an accompanying card, telling them what they liked about their class or even referencing a favorite unit, craft or project that they liked from that year. I felt that this is an important lesson for my kids to learn about gift giving - that it is not just about the gift itself, but really about the message you want that person to have - and that hopefully the teachers would appreciate the personalized feedback from their students. It was also a good way to get my kids to practice composition and improve their dubious handwriting! At year end, I would also write a thank you note myself on behalf of the family. At the elementary level, that teacher spent on average 5-6 hours/day with my children. That's a lot of time, and well deserving of my thanks.

Samer Rabadi's picture
Samer Rabadi
Online Community Manager

Jane, that's brilliant. My wife is a teacher, and notes from her students are just about her most favorite thing ever.

Thank you for sharing the idea.

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