Teacher Gifts that Could Land You on the Naughty List

teacher supplies
(and what teachers REALLY want)

We asked local teachers what the best gifts for teachers are—and in the process, also discovered which are worth reconsideration. All contributing teachers expressed nothing but appreciation and gratitude for the thought and time that goes into gift giving. “When someone thinks enough to give me any kind of gift, the only thing I say is thank you — sincerely,” says one local educator.

Some teachers don’t expect a gift during the busy holiday season due to all the love and attention they receive for birthdays and teacher appreciation week. But we want to acknowledge these important people who invest countless hours educating our kids. So, what makes an awesome teacher gift? Here are ideas on what not to give—and what teachers really want.

What NOT to Give
Candy. Teachers receive a lot of chocolate and other candy this time of year — it’s just too much, they say. And for those who are trying to eat healthier, there’s little hope of success with a constant stream of sweets coming through the door.  

Mugs. In honor of teachers everywhere, a word problem: If five students give you one mug each year, how many mugs will you have at the end of six years. Yes, 30. Now, write a sentence describing how you arrived at that answer. Just kidding. But do keep in mind that teachers have 25-90 students, depending on what grade level they teach. That’s a lot of mug potential! Bottom line: No more mugs, please.

Homemade treats. While the gesture is appreciated, it’s risky business. With allergies, germophobes and unknown ingredients, homemade goodies often end up in the trash. Sad, but true.

Clothing, jewelry or other items featuring apples or school themes. “But,” you say, “our teacher loves bees —they’re all over her classroom!” Listen closely: If the theme in a classroom is bees or owls, don’t assume the teacher likes to decorate her home (or body!) with that character. Classroom themes are typically connected to something teachers want students to remember (e.g. Bee Responsible, Bee Respectful, Bee Safe); it’s a room theme, not a way of life.

Lotion. Scent preferences vary greatly from person to person. Unless you know exactly what your teacher likes or you shop at a store that allows exchanges, it’s best to steer clear of this type of gift.

Trinkets. One teacher says, “While we appreciate the sentiment and love involved in purchasing trinkets, they pile up, we run out of space, and sadly, they end up in the give-away pile.” See the word problem under “mugs.” Same concept applies here.

Pets. Clearly, a pet requires a lot of responsibility. No one should purchase a pet for someone without permission from the recipient. One teacher shared that she received a tortoise one year. Really? Just say no.

So, what do teachers really want? It’s simple, really—and fits every budget: notes of appreciation, school supplies and gift cards. Read on for specifics.

Gifts Teachers REALLY Want
Thoughtful notes. Teachers love sincere messages of thanks and appreciation. One teacher says, “I love notes from students and parents. I keep them in a folder so I can read them when I have a difficult day. They help keep me positive.” Others noted they enjoy gifts that students are involved in. 

Versatile gift cards. Teachers really appreciate gift cards (along with handwritten notes). No surprise here. Think Amazon, Costco, Target or Staples. These allow teachers to buy what they want for their classroom or for personal use. Consider pitching in with other parents if you’re on a budget.

School supplies. A recent survey revealed that teachers spend almost $500 of their own money on classroom needs every year. Yikes. Supporting teachers in this department is certainly appreciated. As one teacher put it, “The way to a teacher's heart is through school supplies!” Another says, “I would be totally excited to get a “blinged-out” new stapler, class set of new rulers, or a gift card to help fill the needs in our classroom!” A few more ideas: a Lakeshore gift certificate, dry erase markers, “funky” post-it notes, colored pens or books for the classroom.

Restaurant gift cards. Find out where your teacher likes to eat — and what’s convenient to where she lives or hangs out. No need to get fancy. One teacher suggested a Jamba Juice card. Another says, “A gift card to Souplantaion or Rubio’s means I get the night off from making dinner!” Warning: beware the overrated Starbucks card. While some teachers love their Starbucks, it’s not for everyone. Several teachers said they get way too many. Not sure if your teacher is a fan? Ask. (See “Great Idea!” below) 

Gift certificates for family fun. Teachers spend a lot of “off” time grading papers and creating lesson plans. Gift certificates for fun are welcome (movies, miniature golf, bowling, etc.). Be sure to ask what activities your teachers like and how old their kids are.

If you take the time to acknowledge your teachers, why not “hit it out of the park” with something they really want this year! Whatever you decide, know that teachers appreciate any gesture of thanks.

Great Idea!
Ask teachers to fill out a questionnaire about their favorite things (hot/cold drink, lunch, restaurants, color, hobbies; what they do in their spare time, ages of kids, etc.). Then, use the list as a guideline when purchasing gifts for special occasions.



Lisa Gipson is the editor of San Diego Family Magazine and is so appreciative of the teachers who have influenced her daughters over the years.


Published December 2015

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