As the daughter of a teacher, the last day of school before winter break was always a bit like an early Christmas for us.
On that day, my dad would come home from work loaded down with presents from his class. There would almost always be homemade peanut brittle, a box of cherry cordials and, of course, apples everywhere – apple ornaments, apple pencil holders and apple-decorated mugs.
Although my dad’s apple ornaments still get added to the tree every year, a quick trip around the blogosphere reveals that most teachers aren’t into knickknack type gifts anymore. So you may be wondering what to get the teachers in your life nowadays.
The name of the game when it comes to teacher gifts is practicality. Teachers have big classrooms, which can mean lots of gifts year after year. Most teachers appreciate whatever they get, but offering them something practical and consumable means they won’t be faced with the dilemma of deciding which of their 10 “No. 1 Teacher” mugs to use each day.
In addition, unless you know the teacher very well, steer clear of things such as perfume, cologne or home décor that can be subject to personal preferences. When in doubt, you could run your idea by a fellow teacher or the front office staff to get their thoughts.
Now, let’s get to our affordable teacher gift ideas.
1. Personalized notecards, Post-its and other paper products
Teachers write all sorts of notes – to parents, to students, to colleagues. Wouldn’t it be nice if they had some pretty and personalized paper to use? You can buy card stock to make notecards using printed templates found online. Or if you’re into stamps, you can stamp generic Post-it notes, stationery pads or other paper products to personalize them.
2. Gift cards for food, coffee or school supplies
You really can’t go wrong with a gift card. It doesn’t have to be for much, either. It could be just enough for a cup of coffee, a run through the drive-through on a busy day or some last-minute project supplies. Create a 20-cent greeting card, include a groan-worthy saying such as “You mean a latte to me,” and you have a gift that’ll make your favorite teacher smile.
3. Make lunch or dinner on you
This one is tricky. Some teachers would love for you to bring them lunch or send a casserole they could easily reheat for dinner. Others may have strict dietary restrictions or be iffy about eating food cooked in a kitchen not their own. The best way to approach this may be the direct approach. Ask the teacher if he or she would be interested in having you bring him or her a meal. If the teacher seems at all hesitant, move on to another idea.
4. Create a movie night escape
Everyone needs to escape reality once in a while, and a movie night can be the perfect answer to a wild week in the classroom. Bundle together a gift card from a local movie rental place with some popcorn and candy for an inexpensive, yet thoughtful gift.
5. Pool resources for a customized class gift
You could buy a tote bag and have your child decorate it with a handprint or other artwork. Or, depending on your classroom dynamics, you may be able to arrange for a whole class gift along those lines. It could be a piece of artwork such as a tree in which all kids make the leaves with thumbprints, or maybe a quilt for which each student decorates a square. These gifts fall outside of the practical and consumable categories, but the sentimental value may trump those considerations.
6. Give the gift of time
Teachers often arrive early, stay late and then head home where they grade papers or prepare lesson plans. One of the best Christmas gifts you may be able to give your child’s teacher this year is a helping hand. For example, at my kids’ small school, parents and teachers take turns serving as lunch monitors. Part of my Christmas gift this year will be the offer to sub one day for their recess duty so the teachers can enjoy lunch on their own. Depending on the grade and school, you may be able to help make bulletin boards, prepare materials for projects or organize supplies.
7. Fill a classroom need
The jury seems to be out on this one: Some teachers appreciate getting books and supplies for their classroom as holiday gifts. For others, it’s akin to receiving a blender on Mother’s Day. Again, when in doubt, ask one of their colleagues or the front office staff if they know whether your particular teacher has a preference.
8. Soap, lotion or lip balm (but only for some teachers)
This gift idea is similar to food. Some teachers may love the idea, while others won’t be so enthused because of skin sensitivities or scent preferences. However, for those who like the idea, some nicely wrapped soap, hand lotion or lip balm can be a gift that seems luxurious even though it’s not necessarily pricey. You can buy handmade items at craft fairs or, if you’re really ambitious, make your own at home.
9. Send your kudos to the boss
At a small school, the principal probably already has a good grasp of how teachers are doing in the classroom. However, if your child’s teacher is one of dozens of staff members at a larger school, the boss might not be as familiar with what’s going on in each room. This holiday, send a letter to the principal singing the praises of your child’s superstar teacher. CC the superintendent, and then send a copy in a card to the teacher.
10. Simply say thank you – and have your child do the same
I don’t have any hard statistical data backing this up, but after poring over countless blog posts and the hundreds of teacher comments that accompany them, I feel fairly confident when I say teachers simply want to be appreciated. To that end, they would love to receive a handwritten note from you – or even better, from your child – saying thanks for all they do. Yes, teachers get paid for doing their jobs, but if you spent day in and day out with 29 demanding children, you would probably like to get a pat on the back once a year too.
If none of these gift ideas inspire you, boy, are you in luck. Because there happens to be a website filled with every possible gift idea known to man – Pinterest.
Search for “teacher gifts” and be prepared to feel inferior as you view the handmade teacher gift creations made by other, more talented parents.
In all seriousness, you can find plenty of gift ideas on the site, but you’ll want to tread carefully. You probably can’t go wrong with a pack of markers adorned with a cute notecard saying the teacher is reMARKable, but even the most inspirational piece of wall art might end up shoved in the back closet if it doesn’t match a teacher’s home décor.
By the time my dad retired in 1999, the yearly onslaught of gifts had largely dried up. When I commented on it once, he shrugged off the lack of gifts but did say it gave him the impression parents no longer cared. Make sure your favorite teacher knows you care by using one of these affordable teacher gift ideas.
Subscribe to the Money Talks News newsletter