"Truly one of the best gifts is a note from the student telling the teacher what he/she enjoyed about the year—as long as it was something beyond recess and lunch," says school librarian Michaela Freeland, a mom of two preschoolers in Oklahoma City.
Encourage your child to write about a memory from the year or draw a picture. Send a thank-you note yourself, but don't be tempted to dash off a quick, "Thanks for a great year." Instead, put a little thought into it. "Make it sincere," says Pam Shumway, a mom of six in Papillion, Nebraska. "Include something you noticed. Maybe the teacher worked with your child on long division and you write, 'You made it click.' Maybe it's even about a reprimand. 'You talked to David about using a loud voice and we appreciate that as it's been a problem at home too.' And end the note with, 'Thank you for choosing to be a teacher.'"
Spread the thanks: In these days of cutbacks, be sure to send a copy of your thank-you note to the principal as well.
Mom Pam Shumway took thank-you notes one step further last year. She created an entire scrapbook full of them for her youngest daughter's kindergarten teacher.
She sent home decorated paper for each student to write a note (or dictate to mom or dad). One afternoon when the teacher was gone, she worked with students who hadn't turned in their notes yet. Another parent, who'd taken photos all year, included pictures of each child along with snapshots of the year's major events, like the 100th day of school, field trips, and class parties. The teacher loved it!
One of the best ways to say thank you to your child' teacher is to volunteer in the classroom. "Offer to help close the classroom for the summer," says Amy Senk, a mother of two in Corona del Mar, California. "The last week of school, our teachers are trying to cover their boards with paper so the sun doesn't fade everything, they're packing books, they're emptying the class fridge, and so on." Helping with such tasks, along with "a single flower or a note of thanks, is a hit," Senk says.
Do your homework so you can find a gift that's personal, says mom Kathy Sinacori, a mother of two in Newport Beach, California. One way is to suggest that your school create a "teacher trivia" notebook for each teacher. That's how parents at
Indian Valley Elementary in Overland Park, Kansas, learn more about their children's teachers. Teachers fill out a form listing where they like to shop, their hobbies, and special interests, along with their favorite restaurants, snacks, drinks, colors, and flowers, and the statement, "I LOVE __________!"
When you have enough information, you'll be able to choose a gift that feels more personal to the teacher. Former music teacher Lynn Tillman of Florida still uses the zippered music holder with her nickname, "The Tillmanator," on the outside that a student gave her. "If it had said 'Mrs. Tillman,' it wouldn't have been as meaningful," she says.
Just like you, teachers and coaches sometimes like to choose their own gifts. That's why gift cards are a hit. "They may seem impersonal," says Karen McBride, a fourth-grade teacher and mom of two in Overland Park, Kansas. "But they always fit and they're always the right color." "And it sure beats getting 40 mugs," says Kathy Sinacori in Newport Beach.
For her own children's teachers, McBride likes to gather donations from other parents in the classroom so the teacher can have one substantial gift. One usually safe bet: A gift card to a local shopping mall, so the teacher can use it for a movie, a dinner out, or clothes, books, or other items from specialty shops. Consider gift cards to local sporting goods stores for coaches.
Just be sure you know the teacher well enough you don't give a steakhouse gift card to a vegetarian, warns Marla Cilley, known as The FlyLady on the Internet, who lives in Transylvania County, North Carolina. And be sure to include the receipt with the gift card in case there's any question about its validation.
As budgets are slashed, more and more teachers spend their own money to help supply their classrooms. Gift cards to local school supply stores (check online or ask someone at school) can be a boon.
Other options: Make a gift bag or basket with sticky notes, fun-colored pens, and to-do list pads, suggests Amber Flowers, a mother of five in Mosquero, New Mexico. Anything "consumable" like markers, highlighters, stickers, and notepads is often appreciated. The FlyLady suggests an insulated, stainless-steel water bottle for teachers, who may not always drink enough water during the day, she says.
For a coach, consider a clipboard. The kids can even decorate it with their signatures or thumbprints, says mom and teacher Karen McBride, whose husband coaches baseball.
Most teachers like to read, so books are a classic gift that you can handle in several different ways:
• Give the teacher a gift card for personal use at a local or online bookstore. Make sure the teacher knows you want her to use it for herself and not the classroom, says Kelsey Madges, a former first-grade teacher and now mom of two in Ohio.
• Get books for the classroom. Books that featured strong female and minority leads were appreciated by Reagan Kaufman, a former middle-school teacher and now a college educator and mom of two in Cheyenne, Wyoming.
• Donate a book to the school library in honor of a particular teacher.
Teachers spend hours on their feet and certainly deserve a little pampering. If you think your child's teacher would enjoy a little TLC, consider giving a gift certificate for a mani-pedi or to a local day spa.
If you've taken photos throughout the year, share them with the teacher:
• Burn a CD. It's quick and easy and doesn't take up lots of storage space.
• Create a collage. Teachers like to remember the fun moments from the past year, says Motherboard Mom Kathy Sinacori.
• Make a book. Collect photos from all the parents for a hardbound book for a class gift, says mom blogger Courtney Hutson, mother of four in Trumbull, Connecticut. Books can be created through a variety of companies.
• Frame it. Buy a digital frame that holds candid shots from the year along with a class photo, suggests The FlyLady.
One or two crafty moms can get the students together to decorate bags or T-shirts with their signatures or handprints or thumbprints. Get canvas bags from the local hobby store and then the teacher can use it to tote books or assignments that need to be graded or use it for groceries when shopping. Or decorate a T-shirt in a similar fashion for the teacher or coach, suggests mom Courtney Hutson.
"I like to give something that continues living on," says mom Courtney Hutson. That's why she gives teachers a flower or plant, one that can be replanted in the teacher's yard. She may include a coffee-shop gift card and package it all in a reusable grocery bag.
Another idea: Decorate a flowerpot to hold the plant you give the teacher. Mom and former first-grade teacher Kelsey Madges in Ohio still has the flowerpot she received from the first class she taught. It originally contained geraniums and was accompanied by a gift certificate to a local garden center. Now it sits on her front porch and reminds her of that first year of teaching.
When Laurie Kuna of Lowell, Michigan, retired from teaching, her students set up a private Facebook page where they could post comments sharing their memories of her classes and thanking her for her service. "I was totally surprised," she says.
Most people enjoy the treat of a good movie, whether it's at home or the local theater. Oklahoma City school librarian Michaela Freeland, mom of two preschoolers, received a basket that contained glass bottles of Coca-Cola, microwave popcorn, and a gift card for movie rentals, with a note calling it "A Night In."
Variations on that theme can include putting everything in a big popcorn bowl and substituting movie theater gift cards along with movie candy favorites for movie rentals.
For those who need coffee to jump-start the morning, a gift card to a local coffee shop is much appreciated. Reagan Kaufman, a mom of a 2-year-old and 5-year-old in Cheyenne, Wyoming, and an educator, gets clever with the presentation: she puts the gift card inside a mug, fills it with treats—chocolate-covered espresso beans, for example—some tissue paper, and then wraps it. She also suggests having your child write or decorate the inside of a card, adding a personal thank-you note (be sure to mention the gift card so it doesn't get overlooked) and write, "Thanks a Latte" on the outside of the envelope.
Instead of a mug, use a cup from the coffee shop or a reusable thermal travel cup.
Cash can be fun. Just ask early childhood specialist Drue Hickey, who received an umbrella as a class gift one year in Kansas City, Missouri. But not any umbrella. This one had streamers fastened to it with money—ones, fives, and tens—attached and a note that said it was "For a rainy day."
Here's a delicious gift idea: an apron with recipe cards. Plano, Texas, reading specialist Christy Robbins designs and sews aprons herself; you can buy aprons from craft stores or even make them yourself. Robbins distributes recipe cards to students. Each family can write a favorite recipe on one side, while the student pens the recipe for a good teacher on the other.
One of teacher Meghan Luttrell's favorite gifts is a glass-ball ornament. Inside are colored pieces of paper on which her students wrote a favorite lesson or activity from the year, while on the outside, each of them signed their names. "It goes on the tree every year," says Luttrell, who teaches in Overland Park, Kansas.
"I tell the teachers I'll take my kids back for the summer," says Mary Lou Fritts, mom and stepmom of a blended family of five daughters in Prairie Village, Kansas.