Teacher, teacher. . . you have enough mugs

By Mir
November 21, 2006

Lord knows that I try my hardest to give thoughtful gifts to my kids’ teachers. This is partly because I just love to give a gift that’s well-received, and partly because my children are hellions (and as I can’t just give out the large wads of cash their teachers so richly deserve, I have to make do with what I have).

So you know that I couldn’t pass by this question:

Lovely Mir, please help me. I was foolish not to take advantage of the deals you had previously highlighted as being great gifts for teachers. Now I am looking for something to give to my children’s teachers (and also their assistants) for the holidays that would be both appreciated by them, and inexpensive for me. I admit that last year I gave mugs, and although they were very beautiful mugs, I do not want to give mugs again. Please help me find creative ways to say thank you to their teachers!

(Also, I have several people that I usually give little token gifts to during Christmas, and if I could just give the same to everyone, well, that would be beyond wonderful.)

Many, many thanks –

The first thing I’ll do is refer you back to this post, because many of my favorite ideas are in there. But let’s break things down by category a bit.

Disposable pampering. Bath stuff and candles are a bit dicey for teachers, because—like mugs (sorry)—they probably get a lot of them. On the other hand, if you know the teacher and know she truly enjoys that sort of thing, why not? At least—unlike mugs—these are things that get used up, so it’s not as though they’ll accumulate endlessly. Just know your recipient.

Edibles. I’ve heard teachers come down on both sides of the fence on this one, but I maintain that edible gifts are good for the same reason as those in the above category: they’re disposable. If a teacher loves gifted food, great. If not, they can share it, give it away, or throw it away. Now I’m going to look down my nose at you and add a caveat to this. Give gourmet (purchased) food or really good (homemade) food, only. If you’re baking, make sure it’s something people have raved about before. Just sayin’.

Teacher tools. I’ve mentioned buying labelmakers and books here, before. But just about every teacher I know is more than happy to receive school supplies. Depending on your child’s grade level, that gives you huge latitude; everything from puzzles to software to lab supplies are fair game. I’ve yet to meet the teacher who claimed to have everything she needed for her class generously covered by the existing school budget.

Storage. Who doesn’t need more storage? Whether it be a snazzy solution for the classroom or a funky tote bag (show me the teacher who doesn’t have loads of stuff to cart to and fro and I’ll… well, I’ll be incredulous), this is always—to frame it in Thomas the Tank Engine terms—a Very Useful Gift.

Holiday-themed. This is another tricky one, because you don’t want to be giving Christmas ornaments to people who are Jewish or otherwise not interested in the holiday. But if you are certain that your target is a devotee of all things Christmas, you can buy an ornament or a CD of Christmas music or something like that. I buy pretty ornaments on clearance in January (right now I have a stash of Lenox porcelain snowflakes in my basement, in fact) for just a dollar or two apiece, then I use them as the decoration when I’m wrapping up a plate of cookies or whatever.

Handmade from the kids. I’m conflicted about this option, because on the one hand, most teachers really do like it when the student puts in the time and effort to do something for them. On the other hand, unless they plan to build their homes out of lopsided clay sculptures and such, there’s only so many of these things they’re going to want. Sometimes I split the difference on this one by letting the kids “cook” (translation: I supervise them making cookies or dunking pretzels in chocolate), and then we have both “handmade from the kids” and “edible/disposable” covered.

Gift certificates. This is a great option because most teachers are thrilled to be able to go out and eat or buy a book or pick up supplies on someone else’s kindness. But this is a mediocre option for kind-hearted bargain-hunters because 1) it’s very hard to get GCs on sale and 2) no matter how well-intentioned, sometimes it just feels very impersonal. I’m not saying don’t do it; heck, I’ve done it. But… well, you have to decide what works for you. I generally feel a little warmer and fuzzier going the gift certificate route when there’s a group of us chipping in; that way it doesn’t cost me much and I rest assured that the resultant gift is sufficient to really go/do/buy something.

Collection-themed. If you know enough about a teacher to know that she has a thing for frogs or she collects miniature lighthouses, you can go this route and find the just-right, perfect gift. Maybe. Only do this if you know the teacher well. My daughter had a teacher two years in a row who loved all things pig. We bought her a variety of pig novelty items over the years. I wouldn’t try that with a teacher I wasn’t as friendly with, you know?

Most of these are things you’ve probably already considered, but I hope I’ve come up with a few new ideas for you. The old adage of “it’s the thought that counts” is true, but not the way people usually use it. It’s not that you thought to buy a gift that counts, it’s that you really try to find something you think the recipient will enjoy. Do that, and you’re unlikely to go wrong.

Whenever you give a teacher gift, it’s best accompanied by a short but personal note that conveys your appreciation. That is the best gift of all.


  1. Last year I combined kidmade with storage. We had an excess of lavender in the garden so we made some little sachets and bought those cute little Christmas boxes at the party store. No excess wrapping and both parts of the gift could be reused.

  2. I read somewhere recently that a cute, inexpensive gift is a pair of those really soft, fuzzy socks (to wear around the house, like slippers), and you stuff Tootsie Rolls inside, tie them up with a satin bow, and then attach a note that says, “Something to keep your tootsies warm!”

  3. Something I’ve been doing lately is this:

    I buy candy from the SCHOOL fundraisers and give it to the SCOUT leaders.
    And I buy candy from the SCOUT fundraisers and give those to TEACHERS.

  4. I bought some bubble bath on clearance from Avon over the summer to give as teacher/work gifts.

  5. I favor gift cards with a personal note, story, poem, etc. from the kids to the teacher. The 3rd grade haiku about the crickets with the Borders gift card was a hit. That way the teacher (or anyone else) has something they can use along with really presonal touch.

  6. Discount gift certificates: http://www.citydeals.com
    I puffy pink heart them. Really.

    (BTW, you’re gorgeous, smart and a lot of fun, Mir. I’m grateful for wantnot.net this year)

  7. In our district, both the school PTO and a specially set up district-wide foundation encourages donations on the teachers’ behalf. The money is then given out to teachers and schools in the form of grants (for special projects) and gifts (an equal amount for each teacher). So even if you’ve got just a few dollars to spend per teacher, it adds up. Plus, the teachers don’t know the dollar amount donated – each teacher gets a note from the foundation/PTO along the lines of “a donation was made in your name by [kid’s name].”

    For me, it’s a win-win: I worry that teachers get overwhelmed with trinkets (however thoughtful), and I know I get overwhelmed with shopping and wrapping and, and, and … I also feel more comfortable spreading it around and include the music teacher, the art teacher, the gym teacher, etc.

  8. Advice from a teacher… if you do give food, only give homemade if you know the teacher well. I was always nervous about eating homemade cookies from a parent I had only met at conferences. On the other hand, I covet homemade fudge from a parent I see regularly and have gotten to know.

  9. Our home & school assoc. does a holiday scrip program where you can buy giftcards from various vendors and a percentage gets kicked back to the school. Our teacher gifts will be a gift card to Starbucks with some homemade biscotti(or most likely some costco biscotti repackaged to look like we made it).

  10. I get the Entertainment book for my area (good way to try new restaurants without paying full price!) and in the back, they have discounted movie tickets for local theatres. By us (in NC) it works out to be about $5 a ticket whereas a full price evening ticket is over $8. Plus, you get normal looking certificates, so no one has to know you didn’t pay full price. 🙂

  11. I recently wrote about this idea on my site, and people raved, so I’m repeating it here. Cost is

  12. I haven’t taught in 9 years, but when we put up our tree this year (spare me the complaining about putting it up before Thanksgiving please) my very favorite thing is to look at all the ornaments that were given to me by my students and have all the pleasant memories come back. Every time I look at the ornaments, I think about how that particular student impacted my life. I’m a pretty mushy gushy type of person, but if you are positive a teacher celebrates Christmas, they would probably like a special ornament signed by the student. Probably not every teacher will cry when they get it like I did, but they will probably still appreciate it. I usually give a gift card (to Panera bread or something anyone can use) with the ornament to each of my kid’s teachers. I also once got a hand stitched sweatshirt that wasn’t my style at all but it is still hanging in my closet because the memories are so precious to me.

  13. My mom’s a teacher who’s allergic to several common food items and hates fragrance of any kind. So her food and bath gifts always go to us (her kids). Gift certificates are her favorite, but all gifts are, of course, appreciated.

  14. I couldn’t resist diving in. Yes, it’s the thought that counts — and we teachers love the personalized notes and the school supplies and the ornaments. I still have an ornament that was personalized wrong — it makes me laugh and makes me glad I moved from 1st grade to teaching 6th.

  15. *psst* Did you know that you can convert your Discover Card cash back into gift certificates? And that you get more for the certificate than you actually earned in cash back? And that since this is money that you get for buying the things you plan to buy anyway that cash back totally feels free? Nothing like a nice gift for a family member, friend or teacher that doesn’t cost you a penny out of pocket. 😉

  16. Something that costs some time but no money is to write a letter to the teacher’s supervisor complimenting the teacher on the fine job s/he is doing, preferably with specific examples of how that teacher makes a difference for your child.

    And gift certificates, I always loved the gift certificates.

  17. I like to give a gift certificate to the nearby Barnes & Noble – that way the teacher can use it for herself, or for her classroom if she’d prefer.
    But I love the idea of having the child write a short poem. I had my kiddo draw a card last year, but I’ll see if he can be persuaded to write a poem or something as well.

  18. I’m also a teacher, and I second the gift card idea for something easy to give. I feel guilty when I get trinkets because I just don’t have room to display them in the classroom. Plus, it’s hard to know the home decor of a teacher, so it usually doesn’t work in my house.

    Of course, the hand-written letters are the very, very best! I have a file with every single one I’ve ever received. I reach in and pull one after I have a bad day or bad parent conference (meaning that the conference didn’t go well, not that the parent is bad… usually). 😛

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