Well, Hanukah is just over and Christmas is right around the corner! What a wonderful time of year. A big part of this season, of course, is the giving of gifts. And, with that comes wondering and worrying about what to give to various people in your life. Your husband, wife, boss, neighbors, and your child's teacher.
I can't help you with the others, but I can give you some tips on what to give your child's teacher. I have some expertise in this since I am a teacher, so I have my own experience as well as hearing the reactions of all my colleagues over the years. So, based on that, let me give you some thoughts.
DO NOT feel obligated to spend a lot of money, especially in this economy. In fact, you can spend no money and give an incredibly memorable gift (see below).
DO acknowledge the fact that your child's teacher does a great deal. Yes, he or she is paid. However, he or she is not compensated anywhere near the amount of time he or she invests and is not paid for any of the emotional energy given. I can't overstate how demanding and exhausting teaching is. Wonderful and rewarding, yes--but also exhausting. It's very much like being a parent. A thoughtful gift can really help teachers fill their bucket. Here's the most sought after gift I know: a sincere note written by a child that is detailed in expressing gratitude. These are treasured. This is what teachers want. I'm serious. It's also wonderful to get these from parents. Most teachers teach to make a difference. Knowing you are achieving that objective is powerful medicine. If your child is problematic in class, I would especially encourage you to do something.
DO NOT give a gift to one teacher and not another (if your child has multiple teachers. Someone did this last year and it hurt my feelings deeply. I know that wasn't the intent, I know I shouldn't care, blah blah blah--but teachers are human with feelings. If you must do this, and I can see why there would be occasions to do it, then give the gift discretely so no one else will see.
DO think of those who will be left out. Every school has a few popular teachers that everyone loves. They get tons of stuff. But the less popular teachers work hard, too. It's not their fault they are not as charismatic, etc. Be thoughtful. You might also consider the custodial staff, etc. A plate of cookies for them would be very thoughtful.
DO NOT feel pressure to be endlessly creative or clever. If you don't want to follow my advice and do a nice note then it truly is the thought that counts for most teachers. A list of my favorite gifts over the years would reveal no pattern beyond thoughtfulness.
If you are super busy and want a quick idea, go for a gift card. Teachers don't have a lot of disposable income and having a gift card to Target or Wal-Mart, even in a modest amount, makes me feel rich and give me a chance to buy something fun for myself or my wife without having to worry about budgetary impact.
If you want to do something more personal, then you have a little more work. Scented candles are always popular--you might want to discreetly find out if there is a scent they love. Finding out their favorite restaurant, spa, etc. is also a good idea. One year, one family got some movie passes since there was a movie they knew we wanted to watch and knew it would be expensive for our big family. The kindness and thoughtfulness in that still warm my heart. Another family gave me some really amazing, high-end toffee and candy one year and some homemade treats the next year. Some families have special recipes for hot cocoa or cookie mixes--the list goes on and on, but all of this warms my heart to equal degrees because I know they spend time and effort--which is what I've done for their children.
I'm telling you, you do not have to spend lots of money. It truly is the thought that counts. If your child attends a public school, there might be instructional or classroom supplies your teacher would love that are not in his or her budget. Talking to the room parents or the teacher is a good idea there.
One last idea:
DO tell them explicitly that you do not want them to write you a thank you note. This is one of the most thoughtful things I've experienced from parents. I am, of course, happy to write thank you notes, but when someone tells me not to worry about it, it is a true gift, saving time and some money.
Note: All of my current students and parents who I know read this blog do a great job at this! I wouldn't have posted this otherwise.