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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Edutopia's 2009 Guide to Holiday Gifts for Teachers

Educators from our online community share their suggestions for winter-holiday presents.
Grace Rubenstein
Former senior producer at Edutopia

While visions of winter vacation dance in students' heads, parents may be scratching their heads (or their Santa hats) wondering what gift to give their child's teacher.

Of course, there's no obligation to give a gift at all. When we asked the Edutopia community (mostly teachers) what they'd like for the holidays, many had responses like this one: "Send a child to me who wants to learn." Or, in other words, "All I want for Christmas is some parent involvement." But a little sincere appreciation around holiday time is a sweet thing. 'Tis the season. And we all know how much a great teacher means to a child and a family.

We have some suggestions to get you started -- and one bit of advice that emerged in our users' responses: Sure, it's the thought that counts, but steer clear of well-intended yet useless items ("foot cream for a male teacher" and "decorative bird bath for my desk" were two that came up). Whatever you choose as your token of appreciation, make it either useful or personal. And don't forget secondary school teachers!

So -- pause for the fanfare of seven pipers piping -- here are the Edutopia community's ideas for great teacher gifts this season:

Gift Certificates

You pretty much can't go wrong with these -- as of late November, 40 percent of respondents to our Edutopia poll about presents said this was the best gift. (Although one Edutopia community member got so many Starbucks cards one year that she developed a caffeine addiction.) Mix it up: Consider a coffee shop, a bookstore, an office-supply store, or a restaurant.

Thank-You Notes

Some 30 percent of our poll takers said this is what they'd most like. Teachers pull out these notes for encouragement on tough days, and they save them long after the child has left the classroom. As one community member said, "Letters don't expire, go rotten, or break. They are my favorite gift!" Another added, "Letters cost the family no money, trigger no allergies, coordinate with all home-decor schemes, and do not cause weight gain!" Consider buying a box of cards at ArtworkForEducation.com; cards are designed by children and proceeds benefit their school. Be as specific as you can about what the teacher does that benefits your child. To make it even better, copy it to the principal.

Homemade Gift, Edible or Otherwise

This was the favorite gift for 11 percent of respondents to our poll. One teacher known as Mr. Tom once received a handmade cup bearing the words "Mr. Tom's cup." Mr. Tom writes, "It still hangs in my kitchen."

Donation to the Teacher's Favorite Charity

A parent named Kelly says this year she collected small contributions from each parent in her child's class, and will present news of the donation to the teacher with a homemade treat (see above!) and a card (see above again -- triple play!). Also, 7 percent of poll takers picked this as the best gift.

Gift to the Classroom, Such as Books, Supplies, or Stationery

Kathy, a parent and an Edutopia fan on Facebook, likes to ask the teacher what she'd most like to have for the classroom, and then complement it by delivering a fruit or cookie basket to the teacher's lounge. Everybody wins.

Pooled Donation to a Needy Family in the School

The kids could even get into the giving spirit here, doing household chores to earn bigger donations. The educator who suggested this says, "I have plenty of mugs, candles, and hand lotions!"

Educational Tool or Experience for Your Child (Yes, Your Own Child)

Consider a great book, game, piece of software, or field trip that will get your kid excited about learning. Maybe it's even something he or she can share with the class. If it gets the kid excited about learning, that's a real boon to the teacher.

Massage or Spa Treatment

It's what we all wish for but rarely splurge on for ourselves. The holidays, with their accompanying stress, are a great time to indulge.

Plant a Tree in the Teacher's Honor

Pick your metaphor: growth, knowledge, and nurturance. A tree represents them all.

Noise-Canceling Headphones

'Nuff said.

Ho, ho, ho! Happy holidays to all, and to all a good winter break.

Grace Rubenstein is a senior producer at Edutopia.

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