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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  1. LOVE this post!! I teach preschool and my husband was an aid in a SH class at a high school- amazing how many of these things we have gotten from the don’t list!!

  2. As a former teacher I couldn’t agree more! (I now stay at home with my kids) I am sensitive to scents too so all the scented lotions went in the trash. I didn’t even lug them home. I taught at such low income schools I was really grateful for everything, but often times it wasn’t useful.

  3. I work in an inner city school. I got a chocolate reindeer, a small tin of cookies and a small body wash/lotion set. I’m happy to get anything! I would love to get any of the things you mentioned.

    1. Yes!! PLEASE ….remember those of us that receive NOTHING!!
      Attn: Those teachers who are so blessed with candles, mugs, lotions, etc.
      Would you consider blessing a MINISTER’S WIFE?
      (Previous home educating Mom for 5 children who all graduated Public School as the Valedictorian) who is faithful to love, teach and minister, and rarely receives gifts of appreciation as above mentioned!! I am sure there are other teachers who are less appreciated and would feel honored to receive your leftovers!! Be a blessing ~ share your love gifts, and Pay It Forward to
      a teacher less fortunate! Be blessed, Love Teachers Who sacrifice MORE than we all know~

      1. Marcia-

        I’ve been on mommy sabbatical from the classroom since 2008, but if I did have any goodies left Marcia, I’d send them your way. Home educators need appreciation more than classroom teachers, because your students are 24/7/365 deal.

        With love,

  4. SO TRUE! I am an art teacher, and let’s just say that candles, mugs, and baked goods are plentiful in my apartment right now. I totally appreciate the sentiment, and a small amount of any of these are great, but it does get to be a bit much. Some of my favorite gifts have just been simple handmade cards with a sweet message written by the student!
    Also, good point about not forgetting the aides. I’m technically an assistant teacher and the lead art teacher definitely gets a LOT more gifts than I do–I feel weird complaining about it, because it’s not like I need more baked goods, but it just feels awkward when one of my students comes in and gives her a card and a small gift, when I work with that child just as much.

  5. Love this! I’m an Autism Support teacher- so I have a smaller class and actually get SO excited for any little mug or candle 🙂 BUT I know most teachers I work with have a whole closet full of that stuff!! 🙂

  6. Years ago, I stopped at a yard sale given by a woman who had just retired from teaching. The tables literally looked like a gift shop! So I have avoided giving those kinds of gifts. Usually a parent in my son’s class will take up a collection and give both the teacher and aide nice gift cards…

  7. Thanks for sharing this great list. I remember hearing the stories from many a teacher friends on Holiday gifts, that I googled my little heart out last year in preparation for my son’s first teacher. A definite bookmark.

    Sapphire @ Life with My Pollitos

  8. LOL. I’m a K teacher. This year, I got 5 bottles of hand sanitizer, 2 coffee mugs, 9 bottles of lotion/sprays, 2 soaps, etc. Although, I’m a disney freak and the mugs were Mickey, and we go through some soap, so that’s great. If you must buy at Bath and Body – hand soap and sanitizer. On the flip side, I took up a collection for gift cards for teacher and aide in my daughter’s pre-k class, to the tune of $100 for teacher and $50 for aide. Loved doing that!

  9. Great list. I always give cash (I know that’s tacky but I’m sure the teachers don’t mind) and a very small handmade something. This year my daughter and I made sugar hand scrub and last year we made small batches of peanut brittle with handmade snowflake ornaments. I wish we could afford much larger monetary gifts to all the teachers/aides/support staff. They are all incredible and incredibly underpaid!

  10. I couldn’t agree more! My husband is a HS teacher and I’m a school secretary so we see lots lots of this stuff. I am grateful that we were thought of in this crazy time of year but I also have a closet full of lotions, etc. He always gets Starbucks cards (yay!) so I use those as he doesn’t drink coffee.
    The last few years I have donated a lot of the lotions, mugs, post it notes, etc to a women’s shelter. They need them more than me.
    Great post!

  11. This was amazing and RIGHT ON TARGET! This year I received a gift card to a Mexican restaurant in town that was the highlight of my Christmas Break….seriously! I even let my kids get a Coke with their meal because we had the little extra to spend on dinner for a change. 🙂

  12. Love this post! And as a mom of two CPS students (11 and 14) am so happy that I’m in the “Do” and not in the “Don’t” …

    … early on I initiated the “let’s pool our $ together and give a group gift + have your kids write a personal note/card that we can package together” …

    Now that I’m older, I let the younger, more gung ho moms take that on and send in my $10-20 contribution to the gift card!

    One other thing that I have done (and I’m thinking this is a “Do”) … but only if it was heartfelt (I’m not one for faking sentiments) … was writing a personal note of thanks to the teacher from me. Recognizing her/his hard work and commitment and how they have inspired my child …


  13. It’s so funny because I tweeted that what teachers want the most is Gift Cards. I know so many teachers and the LAST thing in the world they want is a cute mug or food – and whenever I see a DIY on a blog that is food or some cute pun on “teacher” I just cringe. The money they spent on their DIY, no matter how small, would be more appreciated in the form of a Gift Card. Just reporting back what all the teachers I know have told me!

    1. Yes! Gifts cards are the way to go, especially if you know James’ teacher is a Starbucks or Target addict. I plan to give something handmade along with the gift card, so it doesn’t feel so impersonal.

      Do share what you give!

  14. I always do Amazon gift cards along with a homemade card from the little guy and a personal note from us. This way they can get something for the classroom or something for themselves without feeling any obligation. We also like to give a gift to the classroom. Last year it was the blue covers for the fluorescent lights. This was something that would probably be at the bottom of the list for use of the school funds, but makes a big difference for a lot of kids including my son. The teacher and aides were thrilled and put them up immediately.

    1. Amazon…I would have thought of that one {even though we are Prime members and shop there for almost everything…}

      I took your suggestion and bought a class gift. Both teachers will receive copies of Nina Crew’s The Neighborhood Mother Goose {my boys’ favorite}…

  15. I teach High School Resource room and self contained 15:1 classes. I taught in the city 11 yrs and now in the suburbs for the last 5 yrs. I rarely get ANYTHING at all. On the few times there were gifts, there was 3 mugs, 2 coffee shop gift certificates, candy in a tin, (cards – with student’s or parent’s notes are my favorite!) Just like with the testing mandates being tied to teacher’s performance, the tangible gifts do not happen in many high schools especially for special ed teacher’s students. I would love a gift card for class supplies but I am the one who supplies the students with everything – they come without most days….. reality.

    1. Have you heard of donors choose. org? I received a grant from them when I was teaching…I’m not sure whether or not they cater to suburban schools in need though.

      My partner at the classroom creative .com {my day job site}- was also a high school teacher and told me the same thing. Even when I taught in a low-income inner city school, the parents were sweet with frames from dollar store stuff, homemade cards, etc. But that was 2nd grade.

      Hope you had a restful holiday break,

  16. Not to be a downer, but Clueless is spelled wrong in your title.

    That aside, this is a very valuable list and I plan to share it with our PTO to give to fellow room parents!

  17. Pingback: Creative Juice

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