Top 10 Do’s and Don’ts of Teacher Holiday Gift-Giving


Updated Nov. 16, 2013

Last year at this time, I was standing in front of a classroom filled with 6-year-olds who were bursting at the seams to commence their Christmas countdown. They wrote in their journals about what they wanted Santa to put under their Christmas tree. They helped decorate the classroom with their artwork. They practiced the festive songs for the kindergarten Holiday Program.

And all the while, their parents were planning elaborate, expensive, heartwarming gifts to give to the best teacher their children ever had.

Okay, maybe I made that last part up. More likely is that those parents, like most parents I know, were stressing over what to give to a person they don’t know very well to express their appreciation for educating their children.

Friends who have school-aged children often ask me for the teacher perspective, the do’s and don’ts of holiday gift-giving. I can’t speak for other teachers, but I know what gifts I treasure and what presents will either be re-gifted or tossed in the trash. The biggest thing to keep in mind is that teachers don’t expect elaborate, expensive gifts. They don’t expect parents to spend hours making presents. In fact, some of the best gifts are the ones that hardly cost a dime.

(By the way, if you’re one of those crafty moms, this list probably isn’t for you. I’ll now direct you to Pinterest and ask that you come back and share the craftiest gift you can find with people like me who don’t have a crafty bone in our bodies.)

Here are my top 10 do’s and don’ts for teacher holiday gift-giving:

1. Don’t give  apple-shaped "#1 Teacher" knick knacks. My daughter’s teacher has been in a classroom for 23 years. Do I think she wants yet another apple-shaped Christmas ornament that says “World’s Best Teacher?” I’m guessing she could fill an entire Christmas tree with those. If you know it’s the teacher’s first year in a classroom, then maybe you can give in to the urge to be cheesy. It will always be a reminder of her first year. Otherwise, skip it.

2. Do give baked goods. Teachers seem to be torn on this point because, after all, ‘tis the season to gain weight. But I say don’t let your inner Martha Stewart go to waste. I’ve been given homemade bread, homemade jam, homemade cookies. Yummy! However, if you know the teacher is dieting, give your inner Martha a rest and go with something else.

3. Don’t use the word “re-gift” in front of your children. Last year, as one of my students handed me a gift bag filled one of the most hideous tabletop Christmas trees I’ve ever seen, he said, “Someone gave this to my mom, but she doesn’t want it. Here you go.” Hmmm, not the best way to tell someone how much you appreciate her.

4. Do get personal. One student gave me a cool keychain of my first initial. Another student gave me personalized note cards. And I envied my teacher friends who received personalized tote bags and insulated lunch boxes. (FYI, non-personalized tote bags and insulated lunch boxes are cool too.)

5. Don’t follow your nose. Stay away from scented lotions and candles. People tend to be pretty particular about their preferred scents. One year I got a candle that was so overpowering I could barely stand to be in the same car with it by the time I got it home.

6. Do work with what you know. Last year one parent knew I was an avid runner. Her present to me? A bag filled with a dozen packets of Gu energy gel. Do you know the teacher loves movies? Get him movie passes. Do you know her favorite snack is popcorn? Get her one of those big tins of gourmet popcorn. Knowledge is power.

7. Don’t let your children pick out the gifts. I know it sounds super cute to tell the teacher that the kids chose the gifts and they’re so proud of themselves, but kids, especially young ones, don’t exactly have the best judgment. Don’t waste your money on the pink butterfly wind chime (unless you know for a fact the teacher loves butterflies) or the dinosaur earrings (unless you’ve actually seen the teacher wearing classroom-themed jewelry).

8. Do involve the kids. Don’t want to spend a fortune? You don’t have to. Give the kids some art supplies and they can make their own cards telling their teachers what they like best about being in their class. Put their best artwork in a frame the teacher can use to decorate the classroom. One of my all-time favorite gifts was a simple cookie recipe handwritten on an index card with a photo glued on the back of the student making the cookies. Super easy, super cheap, and the kids feel involved.

9. Don’t. Buy. Any. More. Mugs. Enough said.

10. Do go for gift cards. Some people think gift cards are impersonal. I’m not one of those people. This is one easy button you should definitely push. A local book store, Amazon, Starbucks, Wal Mart, Target or a craft store like Michael’s to offset the cost of school supplies teachers buy out of their own pockets. It’s perfectly acceptable to slip it into a card (preferably one of those adorable kid-made cards), but if you feel the need for fancier presentation, you can do what one parent did for me and stick it in the card holder of a poinsettia. Two gifts in one!

What kinds of presents do you give to your children’s teachers?

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