You Tell Me: Teacher Gifts…Yay or Nay?

Tomorrow afternoon, students all over the country will be heading home for Christmas break. This week teachers are madly wrapping up lessons and dealing with squirrely children, who are anxious for school to let out. Which leads to the question…what are parents doing for teacher gifts this year?

And for the first time in six years, I don’t have to think about teacher gifts, because I am the teacher! But in past years, this was an issue I always struggled with. First, there’s the question of whether to get a gift for the teacher at all. And then, if you do get a gift, who gets gifts? The teacher, of course. But what about aides? Speech therapists? Bus drivers?

In the past, I’ve done everything from “only the teacher gets a gift” to “everyone gets a gift” to “my kid will make a card, because we can’t afford gifts.” And really, I think all of those approaches are acceptable. I think most teachers wouldn’t want parents to stress themselves financially by getting gifts. A card from the student or a note of appreciation speaks volumes.

I believe the most important issue isn’t whether or not a teacher receives a Christmas gift from each parent. The important issue is that teachers feel supported and appreciated for the difficult and important jobs they do. So whether or not you get your child’s teacher a gift this year, please take the time to say “Thank you” when you have the chance.

So what’s your opinion? Are teacher gifts necessary? What do you do for your children’s teachers? I’d love to hear the teachers’ perspectives, too!

Photo by ajari.


By , on Dec 17, 2009
Lynnae McCoy I'm Lynnae, wife of one and stay-at-home mom of two. I'm committed to getting out of debt by being frugal with my choices in life.


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  1. I have always been amazed by the generosity of parents towards their children’s teachers, particularly when I was on the receiving end of it. I have come to accept and appreciate large gifts as well as handmade cards by children when each is done in loving intent. I have felt most comfortable when a group gift is given by those who wish to participate. Everyone is able to contribute what they are able and each donation contributes to the whole. My favorite group gift was a gift certificate to a local restaurant. Eating out is a rare treat for my husband and me. But here is the flip side of the question, and I have spent more than one night tossing and turning while pondering this. What should I as a teacher give my children? When I was head teacher of a preschool I made goodie bags like I remember receiving as a child Christmas eve at church. It was a joy to make them and give them out, but now I have 55+ children I teach and I reluctantly decided I could not give anything other than a mere trinket, so I give nothing. My gift has to be the care I give every day.

  2. This year is the first year we have our boy in school and all the teachers and aides will be getting homemade marshmallows made by me with a card of appreciation attached. This is one of the easiest and most talked about things that I make every year for the holiday, so i think it fits perfectly. Our school was nice to enough to list all the names of everyone in our holiday packet along with some ideas of what we can do to show appreciation. Writing notes or just saying thank you but at the top of the list.

    Once I finally finish school and start teaching, thats exactly what I would want. Thank you can go a long way and we believe that in our house.

    P.S.- My son is known as the most polite child in the whole school because I taught him to always thank adults that go out of their way to help him. So….every teacher and aide hears “thank you” from him at least 10 times a day lol!

    • Denise:

      I would LOVE your recipe for homemade marshmellows! What a special and fun gift. I homeschool, so I KNOW the teacher would LOVE them! ;o)

  3. Ruth:

    @ Ellen–Well said! As a former teacher, I totally agree. That being said, I just sent my preschooler off to school today with 5 packages of snack mix (1 for his bus driver, 2 for his teachers, and 2 for the helpers). He helped package it up and signed his name and their names on the card, making the gift more from him than from us. My husband and I also sent a monetary donation to the school. At the end of the school year, when we are not stretched as thin with our time and with our gift budget, we will send a handwritten note of thanks and a gift card to a local business. That will be a gift of appreciation from us. Even though teachers choose their professions and some parents don’t believe they “deserve” gifts, I feel that anyone who works with my children on a regular basis needs to be shown some appreciation and thanks from my children and my husband and me. You choose how (but please, no more ornaments, mugs, scented candles, bubble bath, etc!).

  4. Gladys Alofs:

    This year at my granddaughter’s school, instead of a gift exchange among students and giving the teacher a gift, they are collecting items for the local pantry. Both food items and hats, mittens, socks, etc. can be brought. As my granddaughter’s teacher wrote home, “the privilege of teaching your child is the greatest gift you can give me”. I thought “what a wonderful idea”.

  5. cherie:

    So interesting to read everyone’s perspective!

    We gift everyone under the sun – I’m very involved in the school and my husband is very involved in the community so our gift list is long LOL – the mailman and garbagemen get gifts as well as the school office staff and the lunch lady, along with the teachers – these vary over the years but I think it’s more important to REMEMBER everyone that helps ME so much during the day when they don’t have to go out of their way – and to write a personal note – than it is to get the ‘right’ gift.

    It’s our first year of middle school with my dd – she loves all her teachers but when I asked her how she felt about gifts she didn’t think it was necessary – perhaps just for her homeroom teacher [who is also her religion teacher and guidance counselor and she adores him LOL]. So I will follow her wishes on that – but I will be sending a special note in to the office secretary who has been so kind whenever I call with a silly question too.
    Everyone likes to feel appreciated – and even a hand drawn card is enough to let someone know they are.
    I do NOT think it’s necessary, nor do I feel any teacher would be annoyed by NOT getting a gift for sure – they work very hard and do so much out of their own pockets nowadays – it’s generally a very dedicated group of people who just want to help the kids they teach. Knowing they are really REACHING them is more valuable than any material gift.

  6. Rae:

    I think if you can give a thoughtful gift, not a generic one, do it, otherwise a card of appreciation is the best gift. This year, we got my son’s reschool teacher a tub of heavy handcream (nevermind that I got it at something like 75% off), as she has to constantly wash her hands during and between class. I think a reminder that you appreciate what they’re doing and thought of them is nice. Teaching can be a truly thankless job.

  7. I like the idea of giving teacher’s gifts if it feels right to you, but I don’t think it needs to be big, and certainly not just in the holiday season. I like sending kids to school with a bouquet of fresh-cut lilacs in the summer. Or school supplies are always good.

  8. Sheila:

    I’m in an interesting situation in that this is the first year (oldest daughter in 7th grade) where I’m actually somewhat unhappy with some of the teachers and certainly don’t feel that some of them have done all that they should, much less beyond that. However, since I have always given gifts, I still did this year. I still feel that I have to do some of this stuff whether I feel like it or not, so that the teachers don’t reflect negatively on my child. In our case, the school sells scrip (gift cards for anyplace from Wal-Mart to Kohl’s) and so for the last couple of years I have gotten gift certificates for scrip, so they can choose what they want, and they can spend it on themselves, which is what I actually intend, or they can spend it on the classroom. For the specials teachers, we made the cocoa cones that you can find on the Family Fun web site. I do also help through out the year as I can. I haven’t changed my gift-giving personal policy just because my daughter entered middle school. I do give somewhat less to each teacher ($10 each for middle school teachers) than I gave to the elementary one ($15 – not a huge difference). This isn’t a financial hardship for us, but it’s the first time EVER that I’ve kind of resented it.

  9. Ellen:

    I think it all depends. As an elementary school teacher (third grade) who goes out of her way to tutor kids on her own time, stay after school to show movies of the books we’ve read so the kids can see the contrast, makes sure there’s a reason for parents to be involved each month & present in their child’s education (if their schedule permits), honestly, a thank you is appreciated. However, not everyone goes above & beyond, and I get that.

    That said, I do not need a gift at all. What really makes my day / week / year is a card that says, “Listen, I understand that you write down all your tips & tricks on a website so I can use your language when reviewing with my kids. I know you take the time to make a monthly calendar of free/low cost activities in our community that are age-appropriate for our kids. I know you stay in at recess every day with our strugglers, and I appreciate that. Thank you. You’re doing a great job!”

    It definitely IS my job, and I do get paid for it, but there are bad teachers, mediocre teachers, good & excellent teachers (just like there are in any profession), and a thank you to those who exceed their job expectations makes all those late nights worth it.

    Short answer: Don’t stress the gift. Do give a card to those who deserve it. They might not know you notice the time they put in.

    P.S. If you DO feel the need to give an actual gift, let me second the idea of no “teacher-themed” knick-knacks or endless bottles of too-fragranced lotion. Books for our classroom library, gift certificates to supply stores / Target, or even a gift card to the place where he/she gets his/her coffee in the morning will all be used & appreciated. However, *I* am the one sending home gifts to all the parents who volunteer in my classroom & so, so grateful I have their support…

  10. Denise:

    Just no mugs or “teacher” ornaments and dollar store junk. How much of this must a teacher get over the course of their career. Just go to any thrift store and you will see shelves of that stuff.

    IMO a consumable or gift card would be the best. As far as not giving teacher’s gifts, I wouldn’t if I didn’t feel like it, but if we don’t take time, especially at Christmas, to thank the people who are important in our lives, that is pretty sad.

  11. tabatha:

    i don’t have kids, but i think giving school supplied for the next year is a great idea.

  12. Jean:

    Was a teacher for many years (second grade) and every year was inundated with small gifts that truly did turn out to be “clutter” as someone already said. The gifts I remember are the handwritten notes and donations to Heifer International, charity groups, etc. I still have many of those notes. Having said that, I di hope I had an influence on these children’s lives since I spent most of the day with them – and the recognition of that connection with them was priceless to me – perhaps the public health epidemiologist doesn’t feel that with whoever she works with – but teachers do and it means the world to them to have it recognized.

  13. My sister, who is a teacher, says a sincerely written note of appreciation is one of the best gifts you can give a teacher! That being said, I like to send in a small item that the teacher can enjoy, or something useful for the classroom such as a book or something. Many teachers must spend at least some money out of pocket for supplies, reading materials, etc. So a little something is nice. I would give something to each of my children’s teachers and student teachers. Chocolate is generally well-appreciated!

  14. Andrea:

    This year we will be getting our daughter’s teacher a book for her class library. Why are we doing this? Because for us it is much more than her doing her job. My daughter has type 1 diabetes and during school she is my substitute pancreas. She has gone above and beyond to learn as much as she can about how to keep my daughter safe and alive. She truly goes above and beyond and deserves to be recognized and thanked.

  15. Christy:

    Our elementary school has a book fair during late October parent-teacher conferences. There is a special area where you can purchase books -some under $3- that the individual teachers have selected for their class. The PTO wraps the books and presents to the classroom in your child’s name before the holiday break. This is a way for the teachers to communicate what they’d really like for their classrooms and I appreciate the ease.

  16. Lisa:

    Well, the idea of teacher gifts only seems to apply for kids in elementary school. Once the child hits 7th grade, most school districts have class periods where the child can have up 6-10 teachers a day. Do we get gifts for all? Why do these teachers not get gifts because they happen to teach a grade above 6?

    I’m with those who ask why we don’t also give gifts to the bus drivers? Aides? Guidance counselors? I ask my children if there are one or two people in the school that they really respect and like. One year, that person has been a guidance counselor who took time to have lunch with my child. Another time, it was a favorite bus driver who always smiled to them. Kids know the ones who go above and beyond, and we really like to let them know how much we appreciate their efforts.

    But I’d rather support them all year by volunteering when I can. I’m guessing that means more to the teacher than another apple mug.

  17. LisaS in MO:

    I think it is appreciated to recognize teachers for what they do – they influence our children and help them strive and succeed. I always encourage my daughter to help make something for her teacher. To me her teacher becomes part of my extended family whom I pray for, think of often and enjoy being a team with. Last years teacher got a $1 tin with a bookmark made by my daughter and a few chocolates. I included a gift card I’d gotten from mypoints. This year will be very similar. I try to keep all the gifts as inexpensive as I can, but I want her art, music, p.e. teachers and librarian to know that I think of them as part of our family and feel so blessed that they work hard to influence my daughter to be her best. (This years gifts total $2.25 and include a small amount of candy, a craft from my daughter and for her main teacher a gift card that I got from mypoints again.)

  18. I’ve written on this a time or two. Most teacher gifts are–for the teacher–clutter, esp. the Dollar Store mugs. Honestly, a note is more appreciated!

    However, as for the comment of the public health epidemiologist. I think people feel a personal connection to teachers–as teachers do to their students. They are also generally underpaid.

    Best gift: a class chip-in for a gift card to restaurant or bookstore.

  19. Tania:

    Being a teacher, I would much rather have parents help out throughout the year by donating supplies to the classroom, such as pencils, kleenex etc. With the current state of educational funding, teachers are needing to provide more for the classroom out of their own pockets and that means more in the long run than a gift at Christmas.

  20. This is the first year I’ve ever done a teacher gift. For my older two I never did. It is the teachers career choice…why do we gift them for that?? But, at the same time, I think its VERY important that they know we do appreciate the job they do. A quick note or verbal thanks is important.

    The only reason I gifted this year is because our youngest is adopted and has many issues relating to that. This teacher has gone above and beyond working with her and us and being a bridge between us and the school professionals. She’s almost a friend – not just a teacher in our lives.

    I don’t think its wrong to gift on any level – I just think is nuts that many people think they HAVE to and are horrified by those that don’t. Grow up.

  21. Cheryl:

    I like to donate in teacher’s, postlady/man, etc. names. Last year, we had trees planted in their names, in which we gave beautiful cards to those people on our list, along with some homebaked goods (fudge and cookies). They totally appreciated that donation instead of a gift.

  22. I’ll probably be in the minority here, but why teachers? By doing what they do, they are doing the job they signed on for and get paid for. I do not get gifts or letters of thanks for being a public health epidemiologist. I just don’t see why one profession should be singled out. (By the way, my mother in law, brother in law are current teachers and several family members are former or retired teachers).

    That said, my 3 year old goes to daycare full time and the staff go above and beyond our expectations and give her birthday gifts as well. So I do have small gifts for all of them: homemade fudge, handsoap and hand lotion.

  23. As the husband of a music teacher I would ask that if you are going to do teacher gifts that you remember the special areas (art, music, physical education, etc.).

    Yes the teachers spend a majority of the time with your kids, but the special area teachers are often forgotten.

    The handmade card by the child is a great frugal idea, too. My wife asked her kids to send her brother cards (he is in the Navy), and she got a huge stack of hand drawn cards. They were totally awesome and I know she would love getting some for herself, too.

  24. Our kids are all too young, and we plan to homeschool, but my mom always sent in homemade cookies. I think that is a thoughtful and frugal sign of appreciation.

  25. My son’s teachers sent note home saying that instead of a gift for her, we can make a donation to the local share-a-Christmas. I thought that was so nice of her! For my daughter’s teacher, we’re doing a Christmas mug with chocolate covered pretzels and a card.
    If she can’t use it, she can regift it.

    I still don’t know how I feel about all these gifts! On one hand, they’re with our children for much of the day, but on the other hand, that’s their job. Same goes for the mailman (who actually goes out of his way for us all the time), the paper delivery guy, etc…

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