Holiday gifts for teachers

Ah yes, the holidays.  And gifts for teachers.

#2 recently sent me a link with ideas for gifts for teachers. “Comments actually useful here!” she said.

Silly #2… obviously she has not spent as much time on mommy forums and blogs as I have.

Anyhow, from my reading of the forums (etc.) all teachers want are gift cards to Target. Gift cards to Starbucks are ok. Gift cards to the Body Shop are not ok.

They don’t want your cookies. They don’t want your mugs.  They have mixed, mostly negative, feelings about chocolates.

(They might want booze! #2 suggests. And while that might be true, you should probably not bring booze to a K-12 school or preschool. If you’re gonna go that route, try giving a gift certificate to a specialty shop that sells both booze and food.)

They also enjoy, for real, feeling appreciated. They love heart-felt notes from students and parents. They want that even more than gift cards, if the teaching mommies on fora are to be believed.  Teachers are mixed on whether or not they want heart-felt homemade gifts from the students.  They appreciate the thought.

(Coffee! #2 suggests. Sure, coffee. If you know what kind they drink and they’re not just getting it for free from the teacher’s lounge. Perhaps that’s why they like the Starbucks gift cards, though not as much as the same value Target cards.)

Also note that you can make a directed donation for stuff to the teacher through the school and it will be tax deductible so long as the school is government or non-profit. Be careful though that they don’t just subtract money that they would have been giving to the teacher anyway. If you’re worried they might do that, then gift carts to Half-Price books or Walmart or Target or the teacher supply store will be a better option. Teachers do tend to spend a lot of money out of pocket on supplies for kids, which is ridiculous. As a society we should be better than that.

And no, not all students’ families give gifts.  And no, you do not have to give gifts.  Depending on where you live, most parents don’t.  And yes, a card or a note at the holidays is a great idea even if you’re not planning on giving a gift.

What do we do?  $20-$25 gift card to Target to each teacher DC1 comes into contact with (and DC1 writes a thank-you note for each teacher with the card).  Then a $50 card to half-price books “For the classroom.”  This year though we may consider giving a directed donation that’s larger because the teacher has been buying sets of books for the class out of pocket (Charlotte’s Web, Dear Mr. Henshaw, etc.).  We’re not really sure.  When we asked her at the beginning of the semester, she said she’d let us know if she needed a directed donation, but she never has.  We probably should have just written a check right then and there when we were prepared to do so (we’d brought the checkbook and everything).  We also give a much larger figure to the school’s annual giving campaign.  If we went to public school instead of private I’d feel a bit different about giving a gift-card, but public school teachers on fora say they’re totally ok and appreciated.  (And in this at-will no-union state, teachers make so little, that a $25 gift card might actually matter.)

Usually we give $20/teacher to the daycare too, including all the teachers DC2 has come in contact with.  This year it’s a bit tricky.  In the 6 mo period we’ve been at this daycare by winter break, DC2 will have only been in the new room a month.  The previous room was terrible, we hate the directors, but we loved the teachers in the 18 month room.  There are 4 teachers in each classroom (2 morning, 2 afternoon), for 12 teachers total.  And we’re leaving for the new daycare in January (though we usually give good-bye gifts when we leave a daycare, but we’ve never left acrimoniously before).  We’d like to give cards to the 18 mo teachers and the new teachers, but we can’t really leave out the last room if we do that.  And DH wonders if we should really be giving giftcards when the new teachers barely know DC2 (though by the time this post posts, they’ll have known her longer!).  We may end up not doing anything.  I mean, we’re already “those parents” at that school.  But I will feel guilty, you know?  (Probably we’ll end up giving $10 gift cards to everyone at daycare or something.  Split the difference.)

What do you think about holiday gifts to teachers?

24 Responses to “Holiday gifts for teachers”

  1. Practical Parsimony Says:

    As you know, I am much older. I gave gifts in the late sixties and early seventies. I refused to buy anything with “teacher” on it since some teachers had walls and shelves of what were obviously gifts. I don’t remember much of what I gave to teachers. One year, my son told me what he wanted to give his teachers for Christmas–pumpkin bread. Of course, this was the year he entered middle school and had eight teachers (two coaches) instead of one teacher and a PE teacher. ugh. So, I got up two hours before I usually did on a school day and managed to get four loaves baked. He took hot bread to four teachers before school while I waited in the car as he shuttled all this and finally his books. Then, we planned when I could bring the other four pumpkin breads during the day. Teachers confided that they would not eat food from some homes, but were thrilled with HOT pumpkin bread. A few said it was a great gift. Another year, I gave teachers a pint of homemade blackberry jam. There were squeals from teachers.

    Thirty-years later, my daughter collected $10 (I think) or whatever the mother wanted to donate from each mother and bought a silver bracelet from a nice jewelry store. She observed the teacher’s style before she went this route.

    My problem was that my children wanted to go spend their own dollar or two and give the teacher a present they chose and paid for. Of course, my children’s realization about the dynamics of gift-giving was a good thing. Most of the time, I allowed them to shop on their own when I got a very passionate plea. So, that teacher got two gifts and an explanation.

  2. Holly@ClubThrifty Says:

    What would you get a kindergarten teacher? This is our first year with a real teacher of any kind and I am at a loss. A Target gift card? We bought her bus driver a Steak-n-Shake gift card and now I am starting to feel like that way a lame gift! I just didn’t want to get him a gift card that would require him to spend more (lie a $25 gift card to a restaurant where two dinners would cost $40). I suck at this!

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Definitely a heart-felt note. Other than that, it is up to you assuming your school district doesn’t have policies on what type of gifts are allowed. But yeah, a target gift card.

      • Holly@ClubThrifty Says:

        I actually think I will go with a Target gift card- thanks for the suggestion. You can buy a ton of stuff at Target for $25, so she shouldn’t have to spend more unless she wants to.

  3. Leah Says:

    I’m a teacher. I teach high school and thus don’t get many gifts. End/beginning of year stuff is just as common as Christmas at my school (and by that I mean uncommon). I appreciate what I do get. Thus far in my short career, gifts have run the gamut. I got a handful of baby presents, some tea, some chocolate, a selfie stick (no joke), and more. The prettiest present is a dragonfly that balances on its nose. That was from one of my Thai students.

    The only gift card I’ve received was $150 to Nordstroms. Yes! I did check with the school before accepting that one. The mom wasn’t buying grades but wanted to acknowledge that her son had been a difficult student.

    My husband has been here for longer and usually gets a handful of gifts each year. We’ve gotten a few Christmas decorations (including the White House ornament and a Korean music box), ties, lacquer boxes, nice gloves, scarves, etc.

    In short: I appreciate what I get. I regift if I don’t think I’ll use it. Don’t buy anything apple or teacher themed unless you know the teacher likes that kind of stuff. It’s hard to give blanket advice otherwise because teachers do vary. My husband loves getting nerdy mugs he can leave at work, but that would be a lost present on me. Money/cards for classroom supplies is always nice. Even though we have a decent budget, I often buy stuff out of pocket because $5 is easier to spend and not worrying about reimbursement.

  4. Troy Says:

    What’s concerning about “leaving out” the middle room of daycare teachers? It seems more than okay – kind of the point – to give gifts to people or teams whom you specifically appreciated. Given the problems you had with that room, it seems like they’d understand why appreciation wasn’t in order, even if they didn’t agree that the problem was their fault. More than that, even if they didn’t, it seems like it’s not worth papering over with gifts :-)

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Oh, the teachers didn’t blame DC2, they just couldn’t keep control of any of the kids. It’s the directors who blame DC2. The teachers are just completely untrained and ineffective, and I don’t think that’s really their fault!

      Interestingly, the other little terror in DC2’s old room just moved to DC2’s current room and has been an angel since moving.

  5. gwinne Says:

    Oh, this whole practice makes me crazy. I recognize that teachers are underappreciated; I always give end-of-year gifts for my kids’ teachers (lately that’s been contributing to a communal gift, which is fine by me). But feeling obligated to buy holiday gifts for a holiday I don’t celebrate…ugh. I realize you said “holiday” gifts and not “Christmas” gifts, but if we were living in a culture that was majority Jewish, winter gifts would not really be a thing (for practicing Jews, Hanukkah is NOT a major holiday; it’s just become a thing because of its temporal proximity to X-mas). I’m a conflicted gift-giver to begin with; I’m the sort of person who much prefers sending random gifts to friends throughout the year than holiday gifts.

    Sorry…that was somewhat long and grumpy. The short version is I tend to do gift cards (yes, frequently Target) for the kids’ major teachers. When I’ve done actual gifts I’ve let LG pick them out; I’m not saying the teachers would like them, but this should be about the KID, not about me.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      My Chinese students often give me a New Years gift (I have a line of red ribbons on my window) when they get back from break. :) But yes, I think the culture who celebrates the holiday should be allowed to give and the culture that doesn’t shouldn’t have to.

      I do think the holiday break serves as an excuse to give gifts to people who might need them (especially for preschool teachers who may not get holiday pay and have additional holiday expenses). I think of it as the New Years tipping that people in NY and LA seem to have to do for everybody (the doorman/doorwoman, regular hairdresser, etc.).

      An alternative would be the end of the school year. Or not at all!

    • Leah Says:

      I never hold it against any student if I don’t get a gift. I don’t think they’re mandatory by any stretch, and I do think end-of-year gifts make more sense if you do give gifts. Don’t stress about the gift thing :-) I get gifts from perhaps 2-4 of my 60some students.

  6. Debbie M Says:

    You could get them all gift cards to the same place, but just make the ones to your favorite teachers be higher. And if you want to make absolutely sure you don’t have to deal with any fallout from people finding out they are for different amounts, you can make them going-away gifts instead of holiday gifts. I think if you appreciate the new teachers, it’s reasonable to give them gifts if you want to, even though the timing is weird. They could be in between the amounts for the other two kinds of teachers if you want.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Yeah, we’re still on the fence about this. We may end up only giving to teachers in DC2’s current room and not any of the earlier rooms. I don’t know.

      Right now I’m not sure about the going away– the daycare we’re looking at now doesn’t have openings in the older 2s room and only in the younger 2s room, and DC2 has been really flourishing in the older 2s/younger 3s room at the current bad daycare. It’s hard thinking of hir going back now.

      And I’m not 100% sure about the new daycare. They want DC2 to come for an “assessment” about “fit” this week (which is something that one usually sees in expensive coastal preschools with multi-year waiting lists), and that assessment is going to be 15 min of hir playing on the playground followed by 15 min alone in a room with the teacher. DC2 has terrible stranger anxiety and takes at least 30 min to stop clinging to a parent when ze’s at a kids birthday party with people ze doesn’t know. I always forget this because it has nothing to do with hir personality once ze feels comfortable.

  7. bogart Says:

    When we were in small (private) owner-operated daycares, DS and I made and we took banana bread and a card. Our first 2 years of public school, we got lucky because our “class parent” organized a really kind and tasteful collection request and pooled the results and gave a gift card from the whole class. This year we got unlucky, because our “class parent” organized a really annoying collection request that, key among its many flaws, specified that a gift would be given “with a card from those who participate.” A big reason I’d rather give as part of a group is to make it possible for us to give a “class” gift and help those families who may not be able to contribute financially to be included, so we didn’t join that one. We’ll be giving Amazon gift cards and I may also buy a goat (or similar) on behalf of the teachers and the class, from the class (i.e. anonymously) because the kids have been raising money for Heifer, at the teacher’s instigation.

    • becca Says:

      This teacher sounds awesome, and I think getting a goat is also awesome.

      All else equal, I wish the tradition were for end-of-the-school year gifts and not holiday gifts… it smooths expenses for lower income families (end of the school year is not as cash-strapped a time as the holidays) AND avoids any sense of impropriety of buying grade sketchiness.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        I think the tradition is for both! But from what I’ve read, neither is expected and the majority of students don’t give either. Heart-felt notes, y’all!

  8. Rented life Says:

    I can’t ever remember giving teachers gifts as a kid. When I taught college I got a few random things: burnt CDs, magnets from vacations, two seniors bought me lunch once.

  9. Steph Says:

    I used to give hand-made gifts, occasionally ornaments but usually those melt-and-mold candies. (Whoops?) My Dad is a high school teacher, and has a few funny notes from graduating students framed on his wall. He also has lots of photos of students up around his office/classroom (usually the wallet-sized graduation photos). Mostly he likes knowing that students appreciated what he taught them, and knowing what they go on to do.

    I gave gifts a few times in undergrad (I think they were almost all to Miser Mom), and after I graduated I wrote thank-you notes to all the profs in my major department who I’d actually taken classes with.

  10. Calee Says:

    Our private school has each room mom collect money for class gifts and then each family is asked to donate $5 per kid that goes into a support staff pot and another $5 for the special teachers (PE, Music, Art, Spanish) pot. Each of my kids have 2 teachers and we usually give $10 each. Which I feel is probably lighter than most of the parents but we also pay a good deal more in tuition each month because we’re not Catholic at a Catholic school. With 20 kids in Pre-K, and 32 in 2nd grade, I think it’s a nice bonus for the staff.

    And I think they send out basically the same form at either the end of the year or teacher appreciation week. Or both?

    On top of this, last year (and this) we sent a small candy gift along with each kid. They want to physically give something to their teachers too.

  11. Rosa Says:

    Previous years the public school teachers had classroom wish lists/trees, so we did minimal ($15?$20?) coffee or bookstore gift certificates for the teacher but also bought things like kleenex and colored pencils that the class needed. By Christmas a lot of the initial supplies are running out. This year I don’t even know.

    My mom taught middle school and she ended up with so, so many handmade things students made her. She always enjoyed consumables like mini banana bread loaves but the crochet & cross stitch & what not really piled up over time, as much as she was touched by the thought and time.

  12. First Gen American Says:

    I never Gave anything to any of my teachers but my kid’s teachers have always gotten gift cards. We didn’t do a going away gift at preschool…although I still want to do something for one of the teachers…but haven’t yet because of your same conundrum. If I give to one and not the others, it may be mean. But also, maybe it also sends a message they need to hear. Tough stuff. The sad thing is this obligation to reward all sometimes leads to rewarding no one and good teachers don’t get recognized as a result.

  13. Mutant Supermodel Says:

    My brother is a social studies teacher in a middle school and loves Starbucks and everyone knows it so they all get him Starbucks gift cards and it lasts him for AGES. I think last year he got over $100 in Starbucks cards! My mom has been an elementary teacher for ages. She really appreciates the gift cards but she also appreciates gifts that are beautiful and interesting. She had one mother give her gorgeous items from Mexico (where she was from) and my mom loved every single one. She also got a beautiful silk kerchief last year. I think accessories that are timeless are a win as well. Like others have mentioned, the worst case is they will regift it to someone they love and you saved them a little money. I usually don’t give gifts because our classes all collect money but this yearI feel they collected way too little for gifts so I might do something small. The 5th grade teacher loves Doctor Who and Harry Potter so I might get something from ThinkGeek for her but I’m clueless to the rest. EEK.


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