As the daughter of a teacher, the last day of school before winter break was always a bit like an early Christmas.
On that day, my dad would come home from work loaded down with presents from his students. There would almost always be homemade peanut brittle, a box of cherry cordials and, of course, apples everywhere: apple-themed ornaments, pencil holders and mugs.
Although my dad’s apple ornaments were always added to the tree every year, a quick trip around the blogosphere reveals that most teachers aren’t into knickknack-type gifts. The name of the game now is practicality.
After all, offering teachers something practical and/or consumable means they won’t be faced with the dilemma of deciding which of their dozen “No. 1 Teacher” mugs to use each day.
Here are 15 practical, awesome and affordable teacher gift ideas.
1. Personalized note cards, Post-its and other paper products
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Teachers write all sorts of notes — to parents, to students, to colleagues. Wouldn’t it be nice if they had some pretty and personalized paper to use? You can buy card stock to make notecards using printed templates found online. Or if you’re into stamps, you can stamp generic Post-it notes, stationery pads or other paper products to personalize them.
2. Gift card to a favorite store
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You really can’t go wrong with a gift card. It doesn’t have to be for much, either. It could be just enough for a cup of coffee, a run through the drive-through on a busy day or some last-minute project supplies. Create a 20-cent greeting card to hold it, with a groan-worthy saying such as “You mean a latte to me,” and you have a gift that’ll make your favorite teacher smile.
3. Make lunch or dinner on you
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This one is tricky. Some teachers would love for you to bring them lunch or send a casserole they could easily reheat for dinner. Others may have strict dietary restrictions or be iffy about eating food cooked in a kitchen not their own. The best way to figure this out may be the direct approach. Ask the teacher if he or she would be interested in having you bring him or her a meal. If the teacher seems at all hesitant, move on to another idea.
4. Create a movie night escape
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Everyone needs to escape reality once in a while, and a movie night can be the perfect answer to a wild week in the classroom. Bundle together a gift card from a local movie rental place with some popcorn and candy for an inexpensive, yet thoughtful gift.
5. Pool resources for a customized class gift
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You could buy a tote bag and have your child decorate it with a handprint or other artwork. Or, depending on your classroom dynamics, you may be able to arrange for a gift from the entire class along those lines. It could be a piece of artwork, such as a tree in which all the kids make the leaves with thumbprints, or maybe a quilt for which each student contributes a square. These gifts fall outside of the practical and consumable categories, but the sentimental value may trump those considerations.
6. Give the gift of time
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Teachers often arrive early, stay late and then head home, where they grade papers or prepare lesson plans. One of the best Christmas gifts you may be able to give your child’s teacher this year is a helping hand. Depending on the grade and school, you may be able to help make bulletin boards, prepare materials for projects or organize supplies. Or you could help oversee a classroom activity to free up time for the teacher to grade papers or get other work done.
7. Fill a classroom need
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The jury seems to be out on this one: Some teachers appreciate getting books and supplies for their classroom as holiday gifts. For others, it’s akin to receiving a blender on Mother’s Day. Again, when in doubt, ask one of their colleagues or the front office staff if they know whether your particular teacher has a preference.
8. Soap, lotion or lip balm (but only for some teachers)
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This gift idea is similar to food. Some teachers may love the idea, while others won’t be so enthused because of skin sensitivities or scent preferences. However, for those who like the idea, some nicely wrapped soap, hand lotion or lip balm can be luxurious even though it’s not necessarily pricey. You can buy handmade items at craft fairs or, if you’re really ambitious, make your own at home.
9. Send your kudos to the boss
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At a small school, the principal probably already has a good grasp of how teachers are doing in the classroom. However, if your child’s teacher is one of dozens of staff members at a larger school, the boss might not be as familiar with what’s going on in each room. This holiday, send a letter to the principal singing the praises of your child’s superstar teacher. CC the superintendent, and then send a copy in a card to the teacher.
10. Coffee or tea
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Not every teacher is chugging caffeine in the morning, but many do love a good cup of coffee or tea. If you know your child’s teacher has a favorite brand or flavor, stock them up. A bag of quality coffee or a box of herbal tea can be an appreciated gift that doesn’t break the bank.
11. Chocolates or other sweet treats
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Although I don’t understand, I hear that some people don’t like chocolate. For everyone else, chocolate or other sweet treats can be a delicious way to say thank you. What’s more, it’s generic enough that a teacher can easily re-gift it if it’s not something they can use. Just be mindful of food allergies and steer clear of chocolates with nuts for that reason.
12. Photo book
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Are you the parent who is snapping pics at every field trip or class party? Then put those images together in a photo book as a teacher gift. Online sites such as Snapfish and Shutterfly often have coupon codes that make the books affordable. You can also use Walgreens or another local retailer with a pick-up service so don’t have to worry about shipping times.
13. Emergency survival kit
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Teaching can be a tough profession. Help your favorite teacher be ready for whatever comes his or her way with an emergency survival kit. Buy an organizing box and fill each compartment with something a teacher might need. Ideas include individually wrapped chocolates, packets of pain reliever, mints, paper clips, hand sanitizer and similar items.
14. Customized rubber stamp
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You might need a little lead time to make this gift happen, but you can buy your favorite teacher personalized rubber stamps online. These can make grading or acknowledging student papers easy. Self-inking stamps may be most convenient, and you can find various options by searching for “custom teacher stamp” on Bing or your favorite search engine.
15. Simply say thank you and have your child do the same
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I don’t have any hard statistical data backing this up, but after poring over countless blog posts and the hundreds of teacher comments that accompany them, I feel fairly confident when I say teachers simply want to be appreciated. To that end, they would love to receive a handwritten note from you or, even better, from your child, saying thanks for all they do. Yes, teachers get paid for doing their jobs, but if you spent day in and day out with a couple dozen demanding kids, you would probably like to get a pat on the back once a year, too.
For more inspiration, head to the internet’s idea box
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If none of these gift ideas inspire you, boy, are you in luck. Because there happens to be a website filled with every possible gift idea known to man: Pinterest.
Search for “teacher gifts,” and be prepared to feel inferior as you view the handmade teacher gift creations made by other, more talented parents.
In all seriousness, you can find plenty of gift ideas on the site, but you’ll want to tread carefully. You probably can’t go wrong with a pack of markers adorned with a cute notecard saying the teacher is reMARKable, but even the most inspirational piece of wall art might end up shoved in the back closet if it doesn’t match a teacher’s home decor.
Have a great suggestion for a teacher gift? Share it with other Money Talks News readers by leaving a comment below or posting it on our Facebook page.