It really is the thought that counts in choosing a gift for the teacher, GreatSchools readers say.

We asked readers to share their suggestions for teacher gifts. We got lots, from both parents and the teachers themselves. Know the teacher’s interests or needs, and you’ll come up with a great gift, said many, like this California mother of three:

“One teacher’s interest is gardening and (she) was very involved with the school’s ecology learning garden. The end-of-the year gift for this kindergarten teacher was a copper watering can from a well-recognized gardening store/company, on which each child engraved his/her name (with help from a parent using an electric hand engraver). A poem about planting seeds, tending and watching them grow was also engraved on the can, by a more sturdy (parent’s) hand.”

Thanks to our readers, here are other teacher gifts — some lovingly handmade, some ingeniously well-planned and some creatively last-minute:

Ideas for crafty parents

Gift bags: “I love to be crafty, so every year my son and I make his teacher a gift,” writes a California mother of two. “One of our favorite gifts was the year we made summer movie bags for his kindergarten teachers. We took two plain canvas tote bags and decorated them with fabric paints. Then we put microwavable popcorn, movie-type candy (i.e., Milk Duds, licorice, etc.) and a gift card to the local video store. Teachers spend so much time working, they need a little break in the summer.”

Not your normal apple: “My daughters and I like to drink the apple juice that comes in glass bottles shaped like an apple,” a father describes. “Then they paint the bottles to resemble real apples and insert a small cinnamon stick inside each. The cinnamon sticks carry a gift certificate to a local bookstore. It’s still an apple idea but not another mug!”

Magnets with memories: “We have been making these marble magnets for teachers and family for years,” says one mom. “Last year my then kindergartner was really capable of working on them with just a little help. They are easy to put together and you can customize them to each individual. We like to find photos of the kids to make magnets with their friendly faces!”

Jars of recipes: Another mother writes: “My son and daughter and I bought a dozen wide-mouth canning jars and made a dozen really nice teacher gifts. We poured our cookie mix and bread mix into the jars, tied colorful ribbons around the lids, and wrote the recipe on index cards edged with shape scissors. The children and I really enjoyed a couple hours having fun together and talking about the nice things (and the funny things) that teachers do.”

Class quilt: A mom in Florida suggests: “Give each student in the class a swatch of cloth (square), have them draw a picture, sign their names or write something about themselves. Once all the squares are collected, simply sew them together to make a quilt. It’s simple, unique and something that special teacher will treasure forever!”

A cookbook: A mother explains: “Each student copies their favorite recipe directly from a cookbook on an index card. Or have them write what they imagine the preparation of ingredients to be, as this is usually more fun. Each page of a photo album or scrapbook is dedicated to one student’s recipe and portrait. The teacher can have this forever to cherish and chuckle!”

Memento of a teacher’s first year: “Last year, my son had a teacher fresh out of college,” writes a Virginia mother of three. “It was her first year of teaching and I wanted to give her something special to remember her very first class by. I bought a plain denim bag and a plain T-shirt from a local craft store and some printer transfer paper for dark fabrics.

“At a special Fun Day that the class had near the end of the school year, I took pictures of the kids as a class and some other shots of some of the groups of friends together. I printed them on transfer paper and applied them to the denim bag in collage form, and took the group picture and put it on the T-shirt with ‘My very first class’ across the top of the picture. On the bag, I put little captions, like ‘Double Trouble’ on a photo of two on-again, off-again friends and the ‘Three Musketeers’ above a threesome that is totally inseparable.”

“It turned out really cute. She uses the bag this year and wears the shirt often and told me that she has never gotten as many comments on anything as she does the shirt. Hope this gives someone some inspiration for a great teacher!”

And a memento of a teacher’s last year: A California mom recalls that when her son’s second-grade teacher was in her last year of teaching when she conceived of this gift: “Over the period of that entire school year, I took lots of pictures during their field trips, Halloween, Christmas parties and many other activities. I gathered all the pictures.

“As a class project, I asked all the parents in his class to do a two-page dedication with their child’s picture and letter handwritten by their child. It was a big scrapbook with all the 40 students! I cut out each of the different pictures I took and pasted them into the scrapbook like puzzle pieces. It turned out better than an actual school yearbook. The end-of-the-year-gift was kept a secret, and the kids did a fantastic job keeping it a secret. My son’s teacher was so touched and happy when she saw it!”

In your child’s own words

Help your child share a memory: “Have your child write down something that happened during the school year where his/her teacher made an impact on them,” a mother in Georgia suggests. “Maybe not a ‘life-changing’ event but something that really meant something and made an impression on your child. You could even dress it up on the computer with nice paper and frame it!”

Tell the whole community: “Have your child take out an ad in your local city paper expressing the wonderful job a particular teacher or administrator has done,” another California mother writes. “This way the whole community can know what a great job some of our teachers are doing. You can even have it done as a class project. I wish I would have thought of this when my children were in elementary school. I am having my daughter send one this year for a junior high teacher. I think it would last longer than a coffee gift card.”

Another example of a large-scale show of gratitude is the National Education Association’s Teacher Thank-You Project that was unveiled on May 4, 2009: Thousands of thank-you cards were collected from appreciative students, parents and celebrities nationwide and compiled into an eight-foot-high, 75-foot-wide mural.

Give teachers their own report cards: “Last year during teacher appreciation week, we wrote a letter to the teacher and cc’d the principal of the school as well as the superintendent of the district. It was a one-page letter telling the teacher what we appreciated about her as parents and what our son appreciated about her as a student. She cried and the whole school was talking about what a nice thing the letter was to receive. She said it was the best ‘gift’ that she’d ever received.”

Gift certificates and cards

Many, many parents wrote to say that teachers love gift cards. Some gift card tips:

Cards that pay for a night on the town: “The best gifts I have found for a teacher to receive are gift cards for a movie, Blockbuster or a meal at a restaurant,” one parent writes. “These are much better than adding to the collection of ‘stuff’ they receive every year.”

Bookstore cards let the teacher choose: “I try to send home a note to all families and ask for a $1 donation for a gift card to Borders,” a mom writes. “Some don’t send anything, but most send more than one dollar. The teacher can use it for her class or herself.”

Gift certificates that can change the world: “Our teachers last year loved the gift certificates we gave them to, where they can make micro-loans to burgeoning entrepreneurs in developing nations. Some of our teachers even turned it into a class project,” describes one parent. “The response we received from the staff was wonderful.”

Gift cards that don’t cost a thing: A Colorado mother of four buys gift cards without spending money: “My husband and I have been redeeming the points accumulated on our credit card for gift cards for our teachers. We’ve gotten gift cards to a bath/body shop, a home store and several restaurants. Because these come at no out-of-pocket cost to us, it has allowed us to be more generous with our four children’s teachers than we could otherwise afford to be.”

A cautionary note on gift cards: One parent offers this reminder: “Before giving gift cards, we always research the ‘terms and conditions’ to check for expiration dates, fees for inactivity, etc., which can often eat into the gift if the card isn’t used promptly.”

Classroom supplies

Many parents say that their gifts provide necessary classroom supplies. And teachers say these gifts were much appreciated. “The best gift I received was a gift card to a teacher’s supply store,” one writes.

“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.”

A chair for the ultimate director: One mother tells us: “While we have had lots of great teacher gifts through the years, our favorite inexpensive gift is the fold-up [director’s] chair. We purchase a fold-up nylon chair and use fabric pens or glitter glue to write the teacher’s name on the front of the back, where she would sit. And on the other side of the back, seen by those who pass by, we write, ‘a great teacher sits here.’ If you have more to spend, you can get these embroidered professionally.”

Healthy New Year: A mom in Alabama says, “We recently gave our Kindergarten teacher a plastic storage container filled with anti-bacterial wipes, sprays and soaps. We also included several varieties of immune boosting supplements. With the upcoming cold and flu season, we knew she would have to purchase these with her own money. It was a win-win situation, a happy teacher and a cleaner classroom!”

A book by a favorite author: A New York mother writes: “I believe teachers invest their own money into some of the needs for their classroom. I generally like to help them build their collection of supplies for the next year. If they have a certain preferred author, a book by the same author to read to their next class is a nice surprise too.”

Wish lists and giving trees: “My daughter is now in the second grade and attends a school where gifts for teachers are discouraged at Christmas and throughout the school year,” writes a Michigan mom. “Instead we purchase gifts for the class such as books, games, glue, ink, stamps, etc. (whatever is on the teacher’s wish list or ‘giving tree’). These types of gifts are still thoughtful but far more useful to the teacher (and the class) than personal things.”

Pamper the teacher

Summer is a time for pampering the teacher, a number of parents say. “Several times from preschool through third grade I have collected money from every willing parent to purchase a spa/massage package for the teacher,” an Ohio mom writes. “People would give $5-$10. This would give the teacher a peaceful relaxing start to their summer. They always LOVE it!”

Pool your resources: “My daughter was in the fourth grade last year in Redding, California,” one mom writes. “And all the students (30) as well as the parents, pitched in $5 each and bought the teacher a spa day at the local day spa. She was thrilled. When you add it all up you can really give a nice gift and it is affordable for the families.”

Don’t forget the rest of the staff: Here’s how one mom describes the way parents at her school honor the school staff: “We have a very small high school and in order to make sure that no teacher or staff person is left out, we collect money from every parent and make a luncheon around the holidays with table cloths, flowers and catered food. Then, at the end of the year, we take whatever money is left from our collecting and buy gift cards, usually from a bookstore chain, for each staff person including maintenance. The teachers feel really special at the luncheon and are very appreciative of the gift cards, no matter how small.”

And now a word from the teachers

There is no gift that’s perfect for every teacher, as comments from these teachers show:

No more coffee mugs! “I am a teacher so I have plenty of knowledge on this topic. Please stop sending teacher mugs and such. You really can have only so many. Gift cards are a beautiful thing. But also restaurant, movie, grocery or other store certificates are all really great gifts. Flowers are also a nice gesture.”

Personal messages are everlasting: “As a 30-year veteran high school teacher, I have an immediate answer for what I would like as a gift from parents and students. What would mean the most to me is a nice card with a handwritten note that expresses a parent’s or student’s sincere thoughts about the teacher, or thanks for the teacher’s inspiration, hard work, concern, etc. By the time students enter high school, we receive so little positive feedback from parents that we truly hold on to every note, card and email that we receive. If parents only knew how much such small gestures mean to teachers! Save your money and just spend a few minutes with a piece of paper and a pen!

Another teacher notes: “I teach (and have taught for over 20 years) in a very poor school district. While I’ve received quite a few trinkets and mementos, the things I’ve kept are the notes of appreciation from the parents and letters from the children. They are worth more than any gift and are reread whenever I’m feeling down, underappreciated or overworked.”

“My favorite gift of all time,” says another, “was a book of personal notes from my students telling me about their favorite memories/activities from the year (that a parent had organized). It was a gift that all students could be a part of, and it gave me insight into what my students were enjoying about the year.”