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Last-minute teacher gifts

Still looking for a great gift for your child's teacher? Here are five quick and simple ideas for gifts teachers will love.

By GreatSchools Staff

If time is tight or you're not in a Martha Stewart mood, but you want to thank your child's teacher with a gift he's sure to love, these five ideas will save the day. The addition of a homemade card from your child will turn these no-fuss ideas into a gift that is truly cherished.

1. Fresh flowers or a live plant.

You can't go wrong with this timeless gesture of appreciation. One parent suggests, "If people prefer to give something that will last a little longer, I recommend a small potted floral plant (which you can usually get on sale for under $5 at local grocery stores). I attach a note saying something along the lines of, 'Thank you for all you've done to help our child, [name], and all the children GROW in wisdom over this past year. We hope you have a wonderful summer, The XYZ Family.'"

2. The always popular gift card.

As one mom wrote, "Gift cards have 'practical' written all over them. You can get a Starbucks card or Bath & Body Works card in amounts as low as $5 and then the teachers can use them at their convenience and for what they like." 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!

3. A gift basket with a theme.

This requires a bit more effort than a gift card, but it can still be pulled together quickly with a trip to the video or office supply store. Here are a few themes our readers suggested:

  • A teacher survival pack with packages of note cards, colored pens, stickers and Post-it notes.
  • A goodie basket with small packages of coffee, tea, crackers and cookies.
  • Handy gadgets: One mom wrote: "Last year, I did Pampered Chef and gave [the teachers] the mini serving spatula, twix-it clips, i-slice, and mini-whisk. I think it cost $10 or $12, and they loved it."
  • A night at the movies - fill a popcorn tub or basket with unpopped popcorn, other snacks and gift cards for video or DVD rentals.

One creative parent, who lives on a farm, embellished the movie-night basket by using homegrown popcorn and including a poem about relaxing and enjoying the teacher's own family after taking such good care of other children all year. But even the simple version will be appreciated!

4. A donation to the 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 $10 to a homeless person instead of buying you a gift,' I'd be thrilled!"

5. A donation to your child's class.

Teachers often spend a lot of their own money on their classrooms and have wish lists of things they'd love to have for the class. Ask your child's teacher whether he'd like supplies for a special project, money for a field trip, books for the class library or a gift certificate for him to choose something.

One way to make a thoughtful donation is through DonorsChoose. It 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 on the project of her choice. If you browse the requests from teachers, you'll see a wide range of needs and the donations needed to fill them, including requests for special science equipment, money for field trips and art supplies.


Comments from readers

"I love this "
"Another idea that might be appropriate is to have your child pick out a new book at a local bookseller, dedicate it to his/her favorite teacher, and then donate it to the school library. "
"So useful...thanks!!"
"Thanks for the great ideas! I am going to stop at the Starbucks drive through on the way home and grab some gift cards. Thanks again."
"It is really nice to see that there are parents out there who will stand up to harsh and mean spirited people who fail to comprehend what it takes to be a teacher in today's society. Money is scarce, state governments are constantly cutting back, teachers are being laid off all around the country, supply closets at schools are barely filled, and in my school we are allocated three reams of paper and two dozen pencils per month. Art supplies can be ordered no more than four times a year and I hoard any and all supplies that parents kindly donate or that I buy on my own. I teach in a school with a large population of lower income families and if I get one parent to help a year I consider myself fortunate. Many of my students do not speak English or just a little, or are not supported at home with homework and have not been read to nor do they really enjoy reading. They have not been taught that education is the key to future success. I still love my job though, love working wi! th children, and though I wish I was paid more...I am still here after 21 years of teaching. Every year I am still motivated to try and figure out what I might do differently to better ensure that my students are successful. I work a lot more than many people might realize and my eight weeks off during the summer (no, it is not three months) are spent planning units, making things for my classroom, reading professional books, and often going to workshops and school as my credential must be renewed every five years and I am required to have many hours of training and/or education in order to renew. But enough of standing up for teachers because what I also want to share is what I have considered to be my favorite gift. Several times parents have purchased clay flower pots and have either brought them in and had every child put their hand print in paint on them, or have used puffy paint to inscribe my students' names and have added additional creative touches to them. The pot! s look so pretty and are wonderful. I love to garden in the su! mmer and I still have two of these pots from past years with flowers growing in them on my front porch. Every one who comes to my home comments on how great they are and guess what? Then everyone knows that a teacher lives at my address and I think they can tell by my proud display that I cherish my students. Thank you to all the parents who are supportive, who help their kids, who read to and with their kids, and who teach them manners and how to behave properly at school. You make all the difference! From a teacher in California"
"I think the gift ideas are great! not expensive or time consuming!"
"I think that while a child is still a student of the teacher, gifts should not be given until the end of the year for the following reasons: 1. Giving gifts to the teacher during the holidays adds to the already stress filled atmosphere for teachers by obligating them to send thank you notes. 2. Unfortunately, I have heard of several cases where parents get competitive with other parents with gift giving to the teacher. 3. Parents who cannot afford gifts to the teacher feel they are letting down their children. 4. Teachers may be put in an uncomfortable position if they receive lavish gifts from students. A simple holiday card is sufficient. At the end of the year, when the teacher/student relationship has ended, it is a better time to give a gift of appreciation."
"I think that while a child is still a student of the teacher, gifts should not be given until the end of the year for the following reasons: 1.Giving gifts to the teacher during the holidays adds to the already stress filled atmosphere for teachers by obligating them to send thank you notes. 2.Unfortunately, I have heard of several cases where parents get competitive with other parents with gift giving to the teacher. 3.Parents who cannot afford gifts to the teacher feel they are letting down their children. 3.Teachers may be put in an uncomfortable position if they receive lavish gifts from students. A simple holiday card is sufficient. At the end of the year, when the teacher/student relationship has ended, it is a better time to give a gift of appreciation. "
"I have as a sub had both the positive and the negative. Recently a middle school age young man said 'you are only a sub, you don't need education to be here.' The teachers who leave a candy bar/a can of coke or pepsi a thank you sticky note gift make students see that they care about their subs. It always starts my day off well to get the small stuff."
"As a teacher, the most touching and memorable gifts that I have received are heart-felt notes from students and/or their parents."
"As a teacher who's received far too many awful-scented candles, stinky lotions, boring note cards, and even perfume (hmmm...I just realized how many scented items I'm given, perhaps they're trying to tell me something...) -- my absolute favorite thing to receive is homemade food! Baked goods or otherwise (a student's mom once brought in the most incredible Malaysian stir fry for my lunch!) anything you can conjure up in your kitchen. My 2nd favorite is the gift cards to places like Barnes & Noble and Target since that's where we buy classroom things anyway."
"Oh my goodness! I can't believe the negative comments about teachers. I am a teacher and proud to be one. It is a noble profession. My question to those that don't show respect for our career nor understand our financil concerns is how many free moments do you have in your day? Do you have time to email? Chat with co-workers? Do you make a difference in the world? Do you change lives? Do your 'clients' depend on you to give them hope, love, education, kindness, care, commitment, understanding, and a path to a happy future? We are well educated, needed, and yes, underpaid! Haven't you heard- if you can read this, thank a teacher! As for gifts-I think it is ridiculous that some of my friends that teach in different areas get $100 gift cards! It's silly. $5-10 to Starbucks and a nice note are best!"
"I love all the wonderful gifts my students and parents give to me, but the greatest gifts cannot be bought. What I treasure the most are the words children write me everyday, their drawings are so special, and their joyful smiles are the best. I love to hear that I have made a difference, and a thank you is really all I need."
"I personally want my children and the other children in their class to have a great year of fun learning. The one way I can make that happen, besides my responsibility as a parent in helping my child, is to show appreciation to the person who is now spending more time with my child than I in a single day. I try to encourage and show appreciate by helping do things in class and yes buying 'things' too. I've been a PTO officer for 5 years in 2 different schools and I know what the funds are used for and I also know how the teachers spend the money raised by fundraisers. Yes, our kids would still learn without those things, but not as effective, fun, or rememberable. The tools that are bought with money raised and with personal teacher money is a GIFT to OUR kids not just the teacher. Also, with my experence volunteering daily at school, I encounter extreme gratefulness from the teachers, I do show them respect because I consider them as one of the most important persons on earth. After all my children are thriving because of them. I know many parents who hinder the teachers efforts in helping their child and do nothing but complain, but they are the parents who are clueless in what goes on in a day in a classroom. I challenge the parents to spend a day with their teacher and he! r/his students before talking about their hours of employment. It's amazing how appreciation fills the heart so much that the 'pockets' don't seem to matter as much. Why do I buy Christmas gifts for teachers? For the same reason I buy gifts of appreciation for others who enrich my families lives no matter what their salary is. This year as a gift I bought a teacher one of the items sold in our spirit store (I had inside info that she wanted it) I treated the class to milkshakes from Sonic (I got a deal from the manager). It was a happy day in class. Happy students + happy teacher = great learning atmpsphere. My goal of giving completed! (for now, that is)"
"The best 'gifts' I have ever received are letters from the students or handmade projects. They invariably make me cry when I read them, because it means so much to know that you have made a difference in this young person's life."
"Thanks to you, i got lot of tips from you about teacher gifts. RASHMI"
"Another teacher's gift idea is having your child help pick out an age appropriate board game or two for the classroom for indoor recess and free time."
"great ideas!!"
"I get so sick of hearing how bad teachers have it. You chose your career the same as I did. I work alot of weekends and I have to travel (time away from my family). I work special events. I have to plan on my own time. Don't we all!!! I'm salary too so this is not extra cash for me either but I love my job. If I didn't I'd get out!!! Plus I work 260 days not 185!!!!"
"So... I guess we've gotten to the point where we can not hear of someone's discomfort without taking it personal. I thought to myself 'finally.. this man/woman (05/11/07 post)is putting into words what people like the mother (05/07/07 post)deserve. I agreed with everything you said until you wrote answering the teacher... it made me wonder what you do for a living... and if you've ever had a bad day when you get to a point where you just have to vent. It is amazing how we try to seem educated and respectful to those around us but ignore the silence that surrounds our teachers. My son's teacher will even keep in contact with us parents through holidays... I sincerely think that they never actually get time off. Don't talk the talk if you have not done the walk is all I have to say for those with harsh comments and opinions. LET OUR TEACHERS HAVE A VOICE... if they don't get the pay that they so well deserve... can't we at least give them that? I am not a teacher... but! I am a mother who appreciates all the hard work, time, and dedication that both of my son's teachers give not only to each of my sons, but to every single student that they help. THANK YOU TEACHERS... FROM THE BOTTOM OF MY HEART... AND for those with opinions... I wish you were stars... but to have your far far away because although I don't see faces... I can see the harshness through your words. "
"I think the parent that responded saying 'so sad that you don't make enough money for working only 9 months' doesn't have a clue as to what goes into being a teacher. Perhaps they only work 9 months but during those months they don't only work the hours that your children are in school. They don't just show up for work to do what they're told needs to be done like many people do. It takes creativity and patience, time and energy and this is all on their own time so to speak. Their time away from the class is spent thinking, planning and spending their own very hard earned money to come up with innovative ideas to inspire your children. This is all done out of the goodness of their hearts because GOD knows that it takes a special kind of person to want to spend their time and energy working with young people in the hopes of inspiring them, all the while knowing that it is not the most rewarding (monetarily) career that they could have chosen. Yes, we parents have to pay ! taxes and contribute more to the schools than ever before but it's the least we can do to help these individuals working in our schools that are trying to do the best for OUR children when the government won't do anything to help them! You know our society is messed up when the people that are to teach and care for our children get paid less than most any other career out there. Let's pay these athletes less and our caregivers more. On another note while I understand fully where the teacher who wrote about taking a stand is coming from, I unfortunately can also hear that she/he has reached the end of the rope and is now more concerned with the pay/benefits than she is the children. It happens to alot of teachers sadly and understandably. It is a high risk career (in case the parent who wrote in didn't know)and takes its toll on many. Time to channel your energies elsewhere. Perhaps you (the teacher) can think of a way to take a stand and start the path to change instead ! of complaining. Let's appreciate each other!!"
"For the teacher who is concerned about being regarded as professionals and little pay, most parent's hearts are in the right place when it comes to gifts. It is sad to think you don't make enough money for working only 9 months. Parents give to schools and teachers throughout the school year with fundraisers( which are many in my schools), book fairs where majority of parents purchase books for classrooms that the teachers request, providing supplies throughout the year, paying for kids parties and usually providing gifts for holidays ( usually monetary form ie gift cards), and end of year gifts, not including the enormous school taxes we pay yearly most to provide the teachers salaries. It is ashame you have mixed feelings about teachers gifts since they come in many forms to make your job a little more productive. "
"As a former classroom teacher, I have my collection of coffee mugs, soaps, lotions, etc. The one gift that touched me were the homemade sugar-free cookies that a parent made for me. The parent knew-through conversations with her child, that I was diabetic. What great thought was put into the cookies. (They were delicious)!"
"I am a teacher and have very mixed feelings about teacher gifts. While teachers are regarded by some as professionals, we are not treated as such, especially when it comes to salaries. Perhaps one of the best gifts would be for parents to band together and support significant merit pay for outstanding teachers. I was actually told by a mother that because I worked so hard and my pay was so 'stinky' that she wanted to give me a gift and what did I want? While her heart was in the right place, a doctor would never hear this."
"I have a techer that works so hard and does so much for her students. She had to leave for awhile for some personal time for Surgurey. When she came back. A lot of her things she bought with her own money had been taken. So I thought it woul dbe nice to do a gift certificate for $10-$20 and We also made her a tee-shirt expressing how great of a techer she was. Another idea was a basket with bath & body stuff for them to relaxation for all the time on their feet and just time for them to relax."
"These tips are very good. We all need to show appreciation and recognize the efforts of teachers who are like unsung heros many times. I have been a teacher myself and now I have two grandchildren and I love to keep up with what's going on at their schools, what the teachers say about their work and progress in general. It is valuable for parents to show up and participate in the schoolactivities."
"One year my husband and I wanted to help the teacher and the students in our son's class remember the great year they had together. And it was just one of the ways we could say thank you. We took a class picture, with teacher of course. We printed them out for each student and the teacher. We then made autograph booklets by stapling blank typing paper to construction paper and applied the class picture to the front. Inside, we wrote some of the teacher's favorite quotes that she had used as a part of the cirriculum that year. For the teacher, we made a large autograph poster with a few more of the class pictures from the year. She was delighted. Another thing we did for the teacher was to make a Power Point Presentation with pictures throughout the year and pertinent music. This too, was a big hit. We also nominated her for 'Teacher of the Year' and although she did not win, she was one of 15 teachers selected in our city. Thank you for allowing me to share. Cindee Hoff of Redding, Ca."
"This is a great article. Full of ideas and great stories. It has also helped to confirm that my husband and I did make our son's teacher feel super appreciated with the letter we wrote him. "