Note: I have posted this for a year or two in various forms. I worry about it a bit because I don't want to seem self serving since I am a teacher. But I have now been asked multiple times by friends about ideas for teacher gifts. So, I am going to post it.
First of all, you are certainly not obligated to give a gift. If you want to--I think that's really great. If you don't want to, or can't, that's fine, too.
Personally, I always make sure we give our children's teachers something. It's always very modest, but I think it's important, and here's why: 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 constant flow of giving, giving, giving. You give emotionally and mentally and you risk emptying the well sometimes.
Having someone give back using the same currency (eg emotional and mental) really helps fill the well back up.
Do not feel obligated to spend a lot of money. In fact, you can spend no money and give an incredibly memorable gift (see below).
Remember that, while your child's teacher gets paid, a good teacher is simply not compensated anywhere near the amount of time he or she invests and is not paid for any of the emotional energy given.
One of the most valued gifts I know of is a sincere note written by a child that is detailed and specific in expressing gratitude. I personally feel that way, and I think a lot of other teachers do as well.
Most teachers teach because they wanted to make a difference and most worry, I think, that they aren't doing enough, or well enough or could do more or need to do better. Knowing you are achieving that objective and feeling like you touched a life is powerful motivational medicine. This is the gift I yearn for every year and appreciate so much when I get one! In fact, I have a folder in which I keep these sort of notes and in a fire, it's one of the first things I would grab.
If your child has multiple teachers, be careful about giving a gift to one teacher and not another. Someone does this every year and it can really hurt people's feelings. Remember that teachers are human with feelings. If you must do this, and I can see why there would be occasions to do it, at least give the gift discretely so no one else will see.
Remember, too, that every school has a few popular teachers that everyone loves and remembers. But the less charismatic teachers work hard, too. It's not their fault they are not as fun or popular, etc. Be thoughtful.
You might also consider the custodial staff, etc. A plate of cookies for them would be very thoughtful. I know that not every parent can get every member of the staff something. But when you are in a position, it's nice. There is a parent at our school who remembers the lunch ladies and custodians every year. Every year. I think that shows a lot about her.
Don't feel pressure to be creative or clever. It truly is the thought that counts for most teachers--and if it's not, then it's not worth worrying about them. 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 often have vast amounts of of disposable income and having a gift card to Amazon or Target or a restaurant allows them go get something fun without having to worry about budgetary impact. You can get gift cards so easily now--Visa cards which are like cash, and just about every other possible thing you can imagine: Starbucks, iTunes, the list goes on and on.
If you want to do something more personal, you might find out about their favorite restaurant, spa, etc. is also a good idea. Do they have a charity they support? There might also 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.
A few random examples:
One year, one student got some movie passes for us 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 gesture still warm my heart beyond the value of the gift.
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 tried to do for their children.
Another idea is a Christmas tree ornament. Over the years I have received several of these. I always write the student's name and year on it, and each year, as we decorate our tree, I have warm and happy memories of that family. These are really treasured keepsakes.
You might also consider group gifts as an easy way to stretch a few dollars. One year, the parents in my son's class all contributed a few dollars and got her a gift card to the mall. Then, everyone had their child draw a picture and write what they loved about the teacher. We laminated these and made them into a book. I know she really loved that gift.
It truly is the thought that counts. I know some people are worried about giving something the teacher won't like, or that is too modest. Here's the thing: that is their problem! If they are not going to be grateful and appreciative, then they are robbing themselves of joy, and they are not worth the trouble of thinking about. That is their problem not yours.
One last idea:
May I suggest that, along with the gift, you 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. I know a lot of teachers who spend a fair amount of time over the break writing thank you notes and then spend a bit of money mailing the notes (you don't always want to trust the child to deliver these).
Two years ago, I did this with my own children's teachers and some of them literally burst into tears out of gratitude because they felt so much pressure. So, I feel like I'm really on to something here. Some teachers choose to write a note anyway and feel that this is important modeling for the student to see. I totally understand that point of view. My own thought, for what it's worth, is that things revolve around the student all year long. The point of giving a gift is to say thank you to the teacher--not to teach the student something else. But, this is just a thought/suggestion.
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.
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