Saturday, May 23, 2009

What One Teacher Wants at the End of the Year

To my way of thinking, the best teacher gifts fall into a few simple categories.  I’ll go on at length (maybe too much length) about each one below.

  1. Child-made items not meant to be kept forever.
  2. Consumables (to be spent or physically consumed).
  3. Things for the classroom.

Child-Made Items Not Meant to be Kept Forever
I confess to being one of those saps who is perfectly happy with a child-created piece of art as an end-of-the-year thank you.  As long as no one expects that I will keep it forever, they CAN expect that I’m likely to keep it displayed all summer so I can smile even though I’m not with my students.  After that, well, it probably won’t stick around too long. 

I also like homemade food, just like I like homemade art.  Just keep the quantities small.  Even if you’re the only person to give me food, I honestly don’t want to share it with my family.  They don’t know who gave it to me or why that child is special to me.  It’s my private reward.  Yes, I DO love my family, but there are some things that are best appreciated alone.  Besides, if everyone decides to make me food I’ll probably have to throw some away and that’s just wrong.  I like cookies that kids decorated, foods native to someone’s home country, or foods that have special family meaning if you’re willing to share the story and the recipe with me.

Consumables fall into two major categories of their own: gift cards/certificates and food/drink with some small exceptions.

In the gift card department, try to pick something you know the teacher will like.  Bookstores are usually a hit.  I got a $5 gift card this year that will be just perfect for some book I see in a sale bin for a spur-of-the-moment purchase I normally would skip.  I don’t need huge gift cards that make me feel guilty, though I’m sure some teachers would disagree with that.  Educational stores are great to get cards from since teachers spend so much of their own money educating your children.  But don’t neglect home improvement and garden places if your teacher owns a home.  Go in with a few parents to make it impressive.  For a really practical gift, go with a discounter that your teacher is likely to shop in.  Also consider if the store charges a fee on the card or if the card will expire.  As organized as many teachers are, gift cards might not get spent right away and you don’t want your money wasted if your card just happens to get lost in the back of a desk drawer for a few months.

Far and away, my favorite consumable is chocolate.  For chocolate, go small and good.  This year someone gave me some local handcrafted chocolate.  Just 5 pieces, but it’s something I never would have purchased for myself.  I have eaten 2 pieces so far and they were extraordinary.  I also had one international family bring me some chocolate from their home country.  What a thoughtful way to share with me.  As each bite melts in my mouth I think about how lucky I was to share the year with them.

Some teachers like to go out.  I think it’s hard to know where they like to go unless you’ve actually discussed it.  If they have kids, they might not be able to use the gift card until they can afford a sitter for the evening.  You might consider a gift card to a local restaurant that’s unique if your teacher is adventurous in that way.

Another gift I loved was a packet of flower seeds that came from a family’s favorite small seed producer.  I didn’t have to take care of it right away, it didn’t clutter my classroom, and I enjoyed the flowers that grew in my garden all summer.  Just pick an easy-care variety, please.  There’s a reason people don’t give me live plants anymore!

Things for the Classroom
If you want to buy something for the classroom, take a look around it.  Is there a LEGO bin but only one set of wheels out of a zillion pieces?  Go in with a few other families for a pack of some toy that’s missing pieces or something new the teacher mentioned.  Did someone lose two books out of an eight book set this year?  Replace those books and make sure you put something on the inside cover about how it’s a gift for the teacher and who gave it.  Ask your kids.  If they ever voiced frustration over there not being enough of something, that might be the thing to get.

The school office might also be taking up a collection for a larger item that everyone can use.  Over the winter holidays this year our parents collected money and got each set of classrooms a digital camera.  Nothing fancy, but now I can share with families what’s going on AND I don’t have any clutter to store.  Our director takes care of the technology over the summer by storing it in a secure location.

What NOT to Get
What teachers hate: clutter.  No cutesy stuff, please.  You may be crafty, but so are half the other parents.  If it’s something that has to be held onto forever it’s eventually going to be something that I dread moving or storing.  Or I might spend needless time worrying about it getting broken or soiled.  You don’t want me to think of your child that way, really.  Photos are fine because I keep a little file of them, but a big scrapbook is just unnecessary unless it’s the whole class in one smallish book and no one else is going to give me one.  One year the families in my son’s pre-K class made a book where the kids dictated or drew their favorite things about pre-K.  The book was made to be sturdy so it could be kept in the classroom on the bookshelf.  Every time I help out in that room I see some child looking at the book and it’s been two years since my son was in the class.  It has relevance and meaning to everyone in the room and will for years to come.

Imagine if you had 20+ children and each child wanted to give you something.  Now imagine that you’ve been having that many kids give you things for a decade or more.  A new teacher might like the “stuff” but the rest of us typically don’t.  Not that we’re ungrateful, we’re just overwhelmed.

So, teachers and parents, what do you think?  Got a good idea, funny story, or a favorite gift?  Share!


  1. You are not going to believe this, but I forgot the most obvious gift card: A teacher friend reminded me that pretty much anything you need can be found there.

    I want to state that although I listed a bunch of stuff I'm not really into it all. Like I said, I'm happy with things children participated in, or even just a thank you.

  2. Last year I received a gift card for coffee shop/restaurant chain. My husband and I used it to have breakfast the morning after we moved house and it was brilliant.

    Another thoughtful present was from one of the students (I had grade 7) who had talked with me during the year about earrings, and bought me a lovely pair of butterfly earrings which I love and wear all the time.