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The Truth About End-of-Year Teacher Gifts

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The Truth About End-of-Year Teacher Gifts

a teacher accepting flowers as a gift from her first grade students

We posted this eCard on our Facebook Page, and it got me thinking about how true the statement is. I decided to consult the teachers in my life to verify this truth (or dispel it) and get their thoughts on the best ways to show appreciation to a teacher before school’s out for summer, or during the holidays.

teacher gifts

I really must preface this post with how much it touches a teacher to let them know they are appreciated. This sentiment was unanimous with the teachers I spoke with preparing the list below. Every one of them said a handwritten note can mean so much more than trinkets or gifts. It’s no secret teachers are overworked and underpaid, especially considering the HUGE role they play in our kids’ lives, and a personal word of encouragement can go a long way. That being said, lots of well-meaning parents can get a little off-track when demonstrating that gratitude in gift form. Since teachers are much too gracious to say anything, I thought I’d keep their identities anonymous and say it for them.

It’s tempting to turn to Pinterest for inspiration, but it turns out that can sometimes be a big no-no. Exactly how many crayon wreaths should a person own anyway?

When it comes to a DIY gift, simple and heartfelt seems to be a big hit, and you get extra brownie points if it’s consumable and disposable.

These made the list of Don'ts... mostly.
These made the list of Don’ts… mostly.

Teacher Gift DON’TS

1. INSPIRATIONAL TRINKETS ABOUT TEACHING
Any book, mug, pen, or paper weight that has some sort of inspirational quote about leading lives or changing futures. The Teachers said it was a dead giveaway of a quick trip to the Dollar Store the night before the last day of school. Actually, add mugs of any sort to this list. They’re overrun.


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2. WIND CHIMES
Enough said.

3. ANYTHING WITH AN APPLE MOTIF
If you have a teacher who isn’t a noobie, chances are they have closets full of apple tchotchkes already.

4. CANDLES
So, so, so many candles. And I quote, “enough with the candles, please!”.

5. BATH PRODUCTS & SCENTED LOTIONS
This can be a very personal gift, and many people have sensitive skin, or strong preferences (or aversions) to fragrances.

6. RE-GIFTS
You wouldn’t believe the things The Teachers said they’d received that seemed like they had been re-gifted. Keep in mind that if you wouldn’t wear it, eat it, or put it in your house neither would your child’s teacher.

  • Disney character denim jumpers
  • Pleasures gift certificate
  • Lawn sculptures of wild life
  • Random knick-knacks like ceramic fruit and creepy children
  • Coasters

7. OFFICE SUPPLIES
This one surprised me at first. But think about it… they’re getting ready to pack up their rooms for the summer. They don’t need boxes of pencils and markers to keep in storage for months. Save the classroom supplies for your new teacher at the beginning of the school year and you’ll be a rockstar from the get-go.

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little boy and his mom on the first day of school

CAVEAT: Only you really know your teacher and what he/she would like. Take these Dont’s with a grain of salt! Local retired teacher Stephanie Hyatt says, “My favorite gifts were the ones the kids pick because it makes them think of me – a dollar store necklace that they think will look good with something they’ve seen me wear; apple butter they made at home with mom; and I love coffee mugs, especially when the kid says “I know you love your coffee, and I wanted you to remember me!” Bottom line: if you KNOW your teacher collects coffee mugs, get her one!

Teacher Gift DO’S

1. NOTES & LETTERS
Hands down, the most cherished. It doesn’t have to be War & Peace either – just a quick note of encouragement. Or better yet, write a letter to the principal about how awesome your teacher was – especially if they’re up for tenure!


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2. GIFT CARDS
You can’t go wrong here. Starbucks, Target, Michael’s, Staples, their favorite restaurant, movie theaters (so they can catch the summer blockbusters!), and bookstores are all great choices. Just be sure you don’t exceed $25 if you attend public school in the state of Alabama. Of course, if you want to give more you can always give one gift card from you and one from your spouse or child…

3. SUMMER BEACH BAG
If you want to get a little more personal, that’s still possible without going craft crazy. Fill a beach tote with sunscreen, a beach towel, a magazine, some drink mix (Crystal Light lemonade is a good choice), and a nice insulated cup is a pretty awesome gift for a teacher beginning summer break. Take a look at our Pinterest board to see all the cute ways you can put this together on a range of budgets.

Make good choices when it comes to showing appreciation for your teacher!
Make good choices when it comes to showing appreciation for your teacher!

4. PEDICURE & FLIP FLOPS
Another summer break hit! A mani/pedi gift certificate is always welcome, according to the female teachers I consulted. Pair it with some cute flip flops if you know her size and & her favorite color polish, and her toes will be beach-ready in no time.

5. SUMMER SONG MIX
Burn Teacher a summer-themed CD to enjoy in the car or on vacation. The kids can help pull this one together, and if you pair it with one of the items above it will be extra-special. Here’s some great song suggestions to get you started.

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View Comments (27)
  • I only taught in schools for 3 yrs but two gifts stand out – the first year a 6th grader gave me a fabric dainty hankie. Why do I remember it? Because this child was poor and that gift came from the heart. The other was the year I taught in a pediatric psych hospital – I had one student who came to our school instead of public school. His mother wrote me the most wonderful letter at the end of the year as he was transitioning back to public school – still have that letter tucked away

  • Okay so I’m guilty of giving gifts off of both lists! This was great information for the future!

  • Great article! My twins are not in school yet but this will be something that stays in my memory for the future..

  • Of course, heartfelt momentos were my favorite gifts that I received from my students & their parents. The 2 best “generic” teacher gifts I got were gift certificates for manicures and a certificate for an inside & out car detailing! Loved, loved, loved the detailing!

  • I taught high school for 14 years and I can honestly say that the best gifts were the notes at the end of the year. I have kept every card and note I got. 95% of the other stuff, I have forgotten. I do remember a mother who put homemade bread in my school mailbox a couple of times a year for the entire time her son was in high school (and I taught him as a ninth grader), but that was way above and beyond!

    • Thanks for the tips! I’ve added them to our Pinterest board. My sister is a teacher and her apple collection is HUGE!

  • My daughters teacher last year was amazing….and we bought her a Pandora bracelet and 3 charms….this year when she had her baby we bought her another charm. Pretty sure its the best gift we have given a teacher. also sure its the best teacher gift shes gotten. My son also had a fabulous teacher. I don’t remember what I picked out for his teacher (and Asst)….probably a wind chime or mug (gulp), but he was insistent that they both required their own set of marbles. I suggested they share a he told me they would probably end up fighting over them! So they got their own. He said his teacher was thrilled bit the assistant didn’t like them. He was crushed. We haven’t bought any gifts this year for current teachers…..that really soured us.

    • How did he know the assistant didn’t like it!? Did she actually tell him, or act ungrateful? That’s so horrible. I feel bad for your ds. Remember, though, that most people are more gracious than that, and gifts, no matter how small, tell a person that they matter. That assistant lacked manners. Hopefully, she will look back on that and realize what she did. 🙁

  • I would add “Christmas ornaments” to the “Don’t list” for teacher gifts at any time of year. First of all, not everyone celebrates Christmas and this type of gift has zero other uses. Secondly, most people have enough of their own ornaments (or their own children’s homemade ornaments) and some people have strong preferences or aversions to particular types of ornaments. In the end, You can only put so many on a tree. And please don’t regift the ornaments you received in that book club/neighborhood ornament exchange to your child’s teacher.

  • The best gift is always one from the heart! It does NOT matter if it comes from “The Dollar Tree,” is homemade, or if I have four just like it.

  • Great Article! The best gifts are the expressions of appreciation that come from the heart. Those don’t have to cost any money at all, and mean so much to us.

  • I have been a teacher for a million years….okay, almost 30, but I have never been disappointed in a gift that a student has given me. You see, they do not have to give me anything.ever. As an adult, I should understand the phrase, “it’s the thought that counts.” If a child gives you a gift, the action is an action of love and affection. They want so much to please you by their gift and kids definitely know what their teacher lives. As I read in previous statements, pictures and letters/notes from the kids never grow old and I keep them too. Those of you that read this article, the ideas are great and thank you for pointing out some tips. Please, though, listen to your kids. They know us well…afterall, we have spent all year together 😀

    • Absolutely, Rita! That sentiment was echoed 100% by each teacher we interviewed. Most (if not all) kept every note and card given to them by a student.

      Mainly this tongue-in-cheek post was written with parents in mind. Gifts are not necessary, but if you insist on giving one, these were the suggestions we received from teachers who preferred to remain anonymous.

      And thank YOU for your service educating our children. It is worthy and invaluable work!

  • Every year the class moms all pitched in and gave me a fruit basket. Every year at least half the fruit would rot before I, a single woman, could eat it. I secretly did not appreciate having rotting fruit for a gift every year but knew I would be perceived as “ungrateful” if I said so, because they didn’t have to give me anything. Don’t give your teacher a fruit basket. EVER. I have kept the nice cards and letters given to me.

  • Not all teachers are underpaid and overworked. Teacher salaries are public record, you can just google it – my son’s first grade teacher earns almost $90K before bonuses (she is in her late 40’s). She earns much more than I do for a lot less hours than I work. I was googling around for ideas on what to gift her, and it seems all the lists have a similar pattern – lead with handwritten note, and then mention gift cards. Can’t lead with gift cards because that just sounds too money grubby.

    • You are correct. Not all teachers are underpaid and overworked, but most of them are. According to the 2020 salary schedule from the Alabama State Department of Education website, first year teachers earn about $41,000/year. After 27+ years of experience they can increase that to a whopping $52,000/year! Also, the hours spent in the classroom are just the beginning of the job and summers are often spent planning lessons and paying out of pocket for classroom supplies and teaching tools that the schools can’t afford to provide. Having a teacher that makes $41K/year pay out of pocket for her own pencils, cleaning supplies and classroom library books is much more offensive than suggesting that teachers might enjoy a gift card to treat themselves. Also, teachers spend more waking hours each day with your child than anyone else. They educate your child and teach them to read, write and think critically. They also comfort them when they are sad, inspire them when they are bored and congratulate them when they achieve something new. But hey, that’s not that big of a deal I guess. I certainly don’t think it’s worth a $10 Chick-fil-A gift card so that they can pick up lunch on the way to Wal-Mart to spend $100 on classroom supplies or anything. That would be tacky, right? BYE, Felicia (Mia)!

  • As a high school teacher for the last 16 years, the best gifts at Christmas I’ve ever received: handwritten thank you (I have every single one), tree ornaments (I still hang them and talk about the kid who gave it to me and why), books for my classroom library, Dunkin Donuts gift card.

    When in doubt parents, have your kids write a note. Always. We keep them. We pull them out on our toughest days. It is truly the best thing you could give us.

  • I’m grateful for this post! I was strongly considering a mug I thought was cute (I love coffee) since I’m a newbie student’s mom; but now I think I’ll just go with a gift card! Thanks!

  • I am a teacher and I am truly grateful and humbled by any gift given. I once had a student give me a bag of candy that was clearly regifted. There were even a few empty wrappers. The name tag had her name scribbled over and was replaced with my name. But this child had really given me the best present. She thought enough of me, and wanted to give me something so much, that she gave me all she had to give.

  • Next time I make a social gaffe, I shall comfort myself by thinking “at least I didn’t give my child’s teacher a Pleasures gift certificate.”

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