Holiday Gift Ideas for Teachers: Do’s & Don’ts

holiday gift ideas for teachers, teacher gift ideas


By the end of my 7th year of teaching, I amassed 1,500 candles, 74 bottles of body lotion/shower gels, and 45 coffee mugs.

Please for the love of consumerism, do not buy these for the teachers in your child’s life.


Of course, I appreciated all gifts. It just becomes a running joke after you open that 45th: Best Teacher in the Universe Mug! Another apple-scented candle from Bath & Body Works!

Don’t get me wrong.  I am not being tacky or ungrateful, just real.  Real meaning I worked in both private and public schools here in Chicago.  With well-to-do families and those on food stamps.  Real meaning I needed basic supplies like construction paper and books.

Rather than another mug or apple candle, I wanted copy paper the most, as Chicago schools often ration it out like butter and sugar during a world war.

Given that I am on the purchasing end of the teacher gifts spectrum now that my sons are in school, I wanted to pass along some “do’s & don’ts”.

This is what your child’s teachers and therapists really want to tell you:

Many teachers make crap money.  I know I did. My first year teaching, I made UNDER $20,000 a year.  I spent at least $2000 on my classroom.  Sad, right?

What made the difference that year was the gift cards to bookstores, Target, dollar stores, etc. It really helped me build my dream classroom.
Teacher Gifts Do’s:

1.) Purchase gift cards.  Yes, they seem impersonal, but in all reality, your child’s teacher spends a LOT out of their own pocket on books, craft items, and school supplies.  If you want, include something handmade with said gift card.

Gift cards to craft stores, dollar stores, teacher stores, and Target are a good bet. The dollar bins at Tarjay alone are enough to make most teachers smile.  General mall or debit card gift cards are awesome as well.  If your child’s teacher is a coffee junkie, feed their habit with the usual chains.  Awake teachers are happy teachers.  I have yet to work in a school where the coffee pot is ever NOT brewing.

2.) Give spa treatments! Manis, pedis, massages, and the like are great for those underpaid and overworked teachers!  One lovely family, who I had three of their little ones, gave me a gift card to my favorite salon at the time.  That really impressed me.

3.) Consult with other parents on a massive gift.  One year, my first grade class bought me a digital camera.  This was way back in the early 2000s before camera phones existed. That was very meaningful and relevant to my teaching.  I used it to build my portfolio for my master’s and take great photos of my classes.

4.) Include the gift receipt! 

5.) Consider making something personal from the class. My best gifts were scrapbook of my classes throughout the year made by my room parents.  It was by far the most thoughtful gift I received teaching, and one I still cherish today

6) Something homemade from your child can NEVER go wrong.  We teachers gobble that stuff up.  I have a file with all the handmade cards, photos, and letters.

7.) Stock their classroom libraries!  Consider replenishing consumable classroom supplies: stickers, stamp pads, etc are always a good bet.  If you are of the crafty variety, I’m sure Pinterest has like 15,000 ideas for you.

8.)If money is tight, a letter of gratitude.  A genuine letter, especially if your child’s teacher has gone beyond the scope of their job.

Extra credit:  Look around your child’s classroom.   Does the teacher have collections of any kind?  One music teacher I worked with was obsessed with Hello Kitty. Imagine her delight if you added to that collection.

Any parent that would have bought me vintage lunchboxes would have been awesome {I had them all over my classroom}

So, observance is key.

Teacher Gift Don’ts:

1.) Send baked goods or food of any kind.  Your teacher may be battling with her weight or have food allergies.  For instance, I can’t eat gluten, yet well meaning neighbors drop cookies I have to toss in the trash.    My favorite “food” gift was a gift card to Whole Foods.

2.) Forget the aides in your child’s classroom.  They work just as hard as the teachers, but for even less money.  My son’s aides change his diaper and work one on one with him daily.  I adore these women.

3.) Buy clothes or accessories.   I think it’s too personal. If it’s not your teacher’s style, they may feel obligated to wear it.   If you really want to do this, please make sure to also give the gift receipt.

4.) Buy things that scream “teacher”.  The apples, alphabet, etc.  Unless your child’s classroom looks like an apple explosion by all means, feed that teacher’s apple obsession.

5.) Please step away from the scented candles, soaps, lotions, and coffee mugs.  Chances are, your teacher has a closet at home FULL of these gifts.  I have many teachers in my family who often regift these items to unsuspecting grandmothers and aunts.  Don’t add to the madness.

What are your thoughts on teacher/therapist gifts?

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{This post is reworked from one I wrote in 2011}

p.s.:My tune has changed on teacher gifts a wee bit this year, as I have 7 teachers and 8 therapists to buy for, between my two sons. 15 teachers in total. Wow.  That’s more than the people I buy for in my family!

I will share more on what I do for them exactly in the week ahead.  If you have less than 15, well you’ve come to the right blog post.


Sharing @ Happy Hour at Craftberry Bush

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