Sure that “World’s Best Teacher” coffee mug is cute, but imagine how many of them an experienced teacher already has! Here, teachers share what gifts they’d really like, and it turns out that gifts from the heart are among the most appreciated.

Teachers tell us what they want

There is a perfect gift for every teacher, as comments from these teachers show:

“I am a teacher so I have plenty of knowledge on this topic. Gift cards are a beautiful thing; restaurants, stores, movies, grocery cards are all really great gifts. Flowers are also a nice gesture.”

“I always enjoy getting flowers or a gift card,” adds Dr. Ruth Jacoby, an educational consultant in Florida and co-author of the School Talk! Success Series. “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.”

The always popular gift card

Teachers told us that gift cards they can use to treat themselves to something special or buy supplies for the class are always appreciated. You can even pick up a wide assortment of gift cards at many grocery stores, making this gift even easier!

Homemade gifts and cards

A teacher in Washington, writes:

“My students always ask me what I want for Christmas. My answer is the same every year. I ask for a homemade Christmas ornament with the child’s name and year on it.

“Each Christmas, as I hang these ornaments made by precious hands, I remember those students. I reflect on the difference that I made in those lives and my new year’s resolution is already made, to continue to make a positive difference in the lives of my students!

“I have over 25 years of ornaments that I now display. Each one is filled with memories.”

A gift for the whole class

“My favorite gifts to receive from my students are those that I can use at school,” writes a Mississippi teacher and mother of two.

“Because of tight supply budgets, practical items like pens, pencils, cap erasers, paper clips, sticky notes, and lined notebook paper make ideal gifts for teachers. A personal note from the student that the teacher can place in his/her ‘memory’ file will make the gift special.”

Other teachers agreed that gifts to teacher supply stores, bookstores, or other places they could buy much-needed things for the classroom were greatly appreciated.

One teacher suggested that parents can tap their own skills to make a special contribution to the classroom: “One of the best gifts that I ever received as an educator was the donation of a parent’s carpentry skills to put a door on an ugly sink cupboard for my classroom.”

Donations in the teacher’s name

Several teachers told us that they love to see students helping others in their honor. Margaret Wallace, a special education teacher in Queensbury, New York, said, “The only gift giving these days which I support is donations to causes which one cares about.”

Of course, most teachers care deeply about education, so if your child’s school is lucky enough to have most everything it needs, a donation to DonorsChoose may be a great way to honor your teacher. DonorsChoose is a nonprofit that allows teachers to post specific requests for their classrooms and donors to directly fund them. You can fund a project in the name of your child’s teacher or give the teacher a gift certificate to use to help the project of her choice. There are classrooms all across the country looking for help paying for field trips, science equipment, and more.

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.”

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.”

If you really want to buy something…

Mary Beltran, a second-grade teacher in Pacifica, California, says:
“Most teachers I know always appreciate gift [cards] to Starbucks, Target, school supply stores, or bookstores. New teachers, who spend a lot of their own money on books and supplies, especially appreciate these gifts.”

She also emphasized that a personal touch makes a gift special, as she says, “I always get a kick out of gifts that have been chosen or made by a child.”

Scrip gifts

Marcie Wollesen, a third grade teacher in San Francisco, suggests that parents consider purchasing their gifts through scrip organizations. Scrip brokerages, such as eScrip, are groups that coordinate merchants and schools for mutual benefit, with a percentage of the profits going to the school of your choice. “Scrip gives money back on purchases, so that makes so much sense to me,” says Wollesen.

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.

Donate to a teacher’s favorite cause

Peggy Mannion, an eighth grade social studies teacher in San Francisco, remembers one especially meaningful gift:

“A student made a donation to the American Cancer Society in my name. I liked that, because, you know, I don’t need anything! I mean if somebody said ‘I gave ten dollars to a homeless person instead of buying you a gift,’ I’d be thrilled!”

Just say thanks!

Many teachers told us their favorite gift was as simple as positive or grateful words. As one Oregon teacher noted, don’t underestimate the value of praise.

“A supportive, positive letter, with a copy to the teacher’s administrator and/or school board would be a wonderful gift,” the teacher wrote. “And don’t forget those marvelous ‘Letters to the Editor’ in newspapers.”

“Heartfelt letters mean the most,” said Washington teacher Sandi George. “I always keep them in my teaching album,” she said. “It’s important for parents to let us know how much they appreciate all we have done. We work hard at what is often a thankless job.”

Florida teacher Cynthia J. Bradford wrote:

“The best gifts I have gotten are the ones my parents have given me — tears at hearing their child read for the first time in 6th grade, a letter to the superintendent about how their child is reading for the first time in the 8th grade, and a letter to the BOE (Board of Education) and the local paper telling how their child is reading and going back to church because he can read.”