Teacher Appreciation Week is drawing near, and while I hate to violate etiquette by appearing to anticipate gifts, I see online questions like this all the time: what is a good gift for the teacher(s) in your life?
Time and money are precious, and, while any gift is a kind gesture, I hate for families to have to spend either on objects that may go unused. It's understood that not everyone has the means or inclination to buy or do anything, and that people will make choices that best suit their beliefs and situations. Here, without pressure or expectation, are my recommendations for gifts teachers love.
1) School Supplies – The Good Stuff
Dry erase markers in fun multi-color packages (maybe it’s just me, but somehow cerulean and teal make a science diagram special), metallic Sharpies (great for certificates), washi tape (class library labels), high-quality cardstock in bright colors (backing for student work), patterned scissors, a label-maker . . . these things almost always come out of the teacher’s pocket, and while we might really yearn for the beautiful color combo pack, we sometimes rely on the less fun version, because it was cheaper to get more in all one color.
If your teacher has a maker mindset, ask about the types of scrapbook paper, fabric, beads, coding equipment, cardboard cutters, and other tools that would make her STEM dreams a more regular reality. (Please ask before donating piles of scrap paper and fabric – some teachers are clutter-averse and/or have specific projects in mind). Every teacher’s school supply dream wish may be a little different, but someone once gave my entire grade-level team individual sets of pattern blocks, and you would have thought all five of us had won the lottery.
2) Gift Certificates
I think gift cards are brilliant. They are lightweight – easy for a student to carry and for the teacher to take home – and they are versatile. I am always overjoyed to get a bookstore gift card, but there are a lot of other options out there that you might not consider unless you are immersed in Teacher Life. Teachers Pay Teachers is an online store with everything from pre-made sub plans to geography clue games to math problems. Erin Condren sells pretty personalized teacher planners/calendars, and an online subscription to Planbook is $12.00. There are other online subscriptions your teacher might love, like Seesaw or Nearpod, or Angela Watson’s teacher program that might make an excellent combined class gift. Of course, you might want to get the teacher something to enjoy on her own time, and movie tickets, mani/pedi, and (did I mention the bookstore?) restaurant gift cards are all great for this.
Most teachers I know eat twelve-minute lunches timed between phone calls, updates with administrators and/or counselors, and setting up activities for the next class period. One of the best teacher appreciation gifts I ever received was from a student whose parent brought me several local menus and asked me to choose what I would like – and then she brought me lunch from those places that week. It felt like such an indulgence!
There are also always tasks that teachers feel hanging over them that they’d like to get to when there is time – and there never is. This includes things like creating cushioned stools out of milk crates for flexible seating options, or sewing curtains to cover the open cabinets or buying a few more board games for indoor recess (or accessories for outdoor recess). If you know how to build bookshelves or mailboxes, that could be a dream gift. I would definitely recommend asking about colors and sizes first, because many teachers spend a lot of time thinking about classroom themes (and they spend a lot of hours in their classrooms, so it should be something they like), and because fire codes and other building regulations may have specific requirements.
You could take your gift a step further and donate time to help an organization dear to the teacher’s heart – and have some good time spent together as a family in the process. Local organizations often need volunteers to sort food donations, school supplies, and emergency kits, while others could use people willing to read to young students or teach classes at a senior center. This is a beautiful way to pass goodness on to someone else, and most teachers hope their students will become the kinds of people who do just that.
4) Notes of Appreciation
Let me put my Texas hat on for a minute and say these matter, y’all. I’m talking about the heartfelt notes from students and parents – the kind that teachers keep in the Forever scrapbook. These letters speak to the reasons why teachers do their jobs, and many teachers look through these positive notes when times are tough. Also, while you are writing notes, please consider letting your teacher’s administrator know how valuable you think she is, and why. Some administrators have a great sense of what happens in a school, but nobody can see all the details from that level. Please remember the music teacher, librarian, school secretary, educational assistant, custodian, and resource staff, especially when you know the work they do has had a positive impact on your child. Everyone wants to be seen and appreciated for where they put their heart energy, and this acknowledgment is truly welcome.
Nobody should feel obligated to give a gift, of course. It can be hard to know exactly what is the right thing within a reasonable budget, too; some teachers welcome chocolate and some are trying to stay away from it. I have had some lovely personal gifts from students over the years that couldn’t possibly be replicated, because they were so uniquely suited for me and my connection to that student and family. I have also worked with some lovely students and families who were not teacher gift-givers, and I promise, I don’t think less of them. In fact, the best gift you could possibly give your child’s teacher is to be an honest, compassionate partner who communicates kindly, and to bring a sense of goodwill to that partnership as you both work to support the best interests of the young people you share.
I've had the privilege of working with hundreds of students and families in IA, CT, NC, MO, TX, and Canada. I love being a teacher-librarian!