Giving gifts to teachers can be complicated. Whether you are in charge of organizing a whole class gift or wondering what to do for your child’s high school teachers, we can help. We’ve compiled lots of common sense tips from some real experts — our readers!

How do I know what teachers want?

Dr. Ruth Jacoby, an educational consultant in Florida and co-author of the School Talk! Success Series told us about creative ways parents can find out what type of gifts a teacher would like. “Many of my parents usually ask other staff what my likes are. One school at the beginning of the year sent a survey to all staff members on likes and favorites, so many times I get gift baskets with my favorite coffee, snacks and books,” she said.

If you want tips for doing in-person research, read our article on better gifts for teachers, where real teachers told us about the gifts they love most. You might be surprised to learn that the simplest thanks were often the most special.

Help! I’m in charge of organizing a gift from the whole class.

Joining with other parents in your child’s class or school allows families to spend whatever they’re comfortable giving and results in a memorable gift for the teacher. Our readers had many great suggestions for making it work.

Tips from a veteran organizer: Michigan mom Pam Cunningham is a veteran of organizing parents to pool their resources. She wrote:

“For two years now, I have sent letters home to the parents to take up a collection for an end-of-the-year gift for our daughters’ teachers…. I ask that any amount they would like to contribute be sent back anonymously and include their vote for gift. (I usually give two choices that I gathered after talking to other teachers or the principal to see if they have anything special going on over the summer or their hobbies.)

“One teacher was going on a special vacation over the summer, and we filled a beach tote with a certificate to the book store, salon that she goes to, a photo album/journal, pack of film and travel-size body products. She loved it!

“Another teacher had a baby just before school started so we gave her a gift certificate to a nice restaurant, the movies, the teacher/parent store and a salon. For this I potted a plant and using florist card stakes, I labeled envelopes with ‘A Night on the Town,’ ‘Get Ready for Next Year’ and ‘Pamper Yourself’ and had them sticking out of the pot. She couldn’t wait to go out with her husband and spend some time on herself.”

Turn the gift into a class project: A room parent in Florida wrote:

“One of our favorite gift ideas was actually a class project. I copied a letter asking parents to help their child make a memory book for their teacher. I sent home in a large manila envelope, one piece of colored card stock paper along with written instructions to include a photo, write a short message (memory) for the teacher and decorate the page. The students then returned their individual page to my child via the manila envelope. It was a very heartfelt project — every student was able to participate. I simply purchased the empty memory book from a local craft store and compiled the students’ work.

“The only pitfall was getting some of the students to do the page. I had to send a reminder a couple of times, so we could have a page from each child. The teachers loved this book!”

Know the teacher’s interests: A mom of a kindergartner writes that during the last week of school, parents in the class get together and arrange to bring the teacher one of her favorite things for each day of the week: flowers, dessert, lunch, a book. “It will be a sure surprise,” she says. Don’t forget to involve your child, who by the end of the year probably has a clear idea what kind of cookies the teacher likes best.

Another mom writes, “One teacher had a picture of a puppy as her computer screen saver and photos of some dogs on her desk. It turns out she volunteered as a foster pet parent outside of school, so I got her some dog toys and supplies as a gift. Another teacher was dressed all in pink for teacher conferences, and when I commented on it, she said pink was her favorite color. I gave her a pair of pink earrings as a Christmas gift.”

A little pampering goes a long way: An Ohio mother of 10-year-old twin boys shares her ideas for pampering the teachers:

“In the past years we have presented the teachers with gift cards for lunch at popular nearby restaurants and bouquets of flowers to the school secretaries for all they do. Some of our room mothers have also collected towards a spa package from the entire class for the teacher to use during spring or winter break. They really light up when getting the group gifts.”

A California parent suggests, “A great idea would be for all the parents in a classroom to chip in for a spa gift certificate. As wonderful as our children absolutely are, teachers do have stressful moments on a daily basis!”

I can’t afford to buy gifts for each of my child’s teachers, but I want to thank them. What should I do?

When your child reaches the higher grades, where they can have up to seven teachers, gift giving becomes a little bit trickier. It is more expensive for families to buy multiple gifts and teachers have more students and may receive more gifts. One teacher said, “I get about 20 gifts at Christmas time. I get a lot of candy. I love chocolate. But it can be too much, so I give it to the homeless.”

Still, there are lots of ways your child can show her upper-grade teachers her appreciation. Many of these ideas will also work if you want to honor the whole staff at a school, not just your child’s teachers.

A California parent writes:

“While buying a gift for all seven of your children’s teachers is not practical, a simple thank you card or email means a lot. Or consider getting together with other parents and doing something for the staff, a tray of homemade cookies or a new microwave for the staff lounge. Be creative. Any kind of recognition will shock, amaze and delight teachers at the middle and high school level.”

You can make a banner to display outside the school thanking the teachers. Or you can organize parents to decorate the staff lounge and bring in flowers and food to surprise the teachers.

Parents pool their talents at Valerie Fonteneaux’s school in Texas:

“For teacher appreciation week at our school, the PTO (parent teacher organization) did a breakfast on Monday, a banana split party on Tuesday, on Wednesday we did a Hawaiian style lunch, Thursday, the parents and students did a pep rally in honor of the teachers, and on Friday we just put goodies in the teachers mail boxes.”

A Florida counselor points out that it’s not just the teacher who helps teach and nurture your child:

“I appreciate not only the teachers but all the staff because we all have an important role in educating children, so on the last week of school for the past couple of years I have given a flower to the teachers, custodians, kitchen staff. I usually find them at any store, cheap…. I buy bouquets and them separate them and hand them out, one by one, and it always puts a smile on their faces.”

Is there a way to honor the teacher and help the school?

Most teachers care deeply about their schools, so contributing to the school in the teacher’s honor can be a thoughtful way to thank your teacher. Here are some double-duty ideas from our readers:

Get a wish list from the teacher: One parent shared this practical approach for pooling resources and getting teachers things they need:

“Most teachers equip their classroom using their own money. I ask the teacher what he/she could use for the classroom and put together a wish list and pass that out to the parents. I found that most teachers wish for a globe, a stack of books, dictionaries, craft material, replacement parts for the computer like a mouse or mouse pad. Often these items are more than what an individual parent wants to spend, but if two or three join together the item can be bought. This helps the teacher by keeping those coffee cups to a minimum and helps your child too, by providing better instructional materials.”

Volunteer your time: One California mom regularly lends a hand to teachers at her school:

“One thing I like to do at my children’s elementary school is to go at lunch time and send the teacher to the teacher’s lounge to eat in peace,” she wrote. “She loves it and she actually gets to eat her lunch!

“Also, as more and more pressure is put on our schools and teachers there is more work for those teachers. A day of photocopying is always appreciated! I try to go in once a week and copy the work sheets for all 3 kindergarten teachers. They appreciate it immensely and it makes me feel good.” You can also:

  • Donate a book to the school library in honor of the teacher.
  • Make a donation in honor of the teacher to the PTA, a school foundation or a children’s charity.
  • Give a gift certificate good for “One day of cutting out art projects from Jane’s Mom.”

Scrip allows you to give twice: Marcie Wollesen, a third-grade teacher in San Francisco, recommends buying a gift through scrip organizations that allow you to buy and send a percentage of the profits back to the school of your choice. She said, “Scrip gives money back on purchases, so that makes so much sense to me. People should also register all their credit cards so everything they do comes back to the school somehow.” If your school isn’t already raising money with scrip, consider starting a scrip program so that parents can buy from participating retailers and see a portion of their money go back to the school. Parent groups can work with merchants directly or through a scrip broker who does the coordinating in return for a portion of the profits. Be sure to choose your scrip broker carefully by checking credit references and contacting other parent groups.