The caption to a popular teacher meme probably sums it up best: "No, son, your teacher doesn't want a handmade crayon wreath someone posted on Pinterest. She wants a gift card to a place with happy hour."
Dana Quinn, a second-grade teacher in southern California, has enough Starbucks coffee mugs to fill three shelves—and that's double stacking them. "Some are just not my taste and other I just don’t have a use for," Quinn wrote at the blog Teaching with TLA.
As a parent, how do you ensure you're giving your child's teacher a gift they'll actually use and enjoy? Here, a few tactics for choosing the best gifts for teachers:
Most teachers spend hundreds out of pocket annually on supplies and learning tools. Quinn was spending approximately $1,000 of her own money each year before she created an Amazon Wishlist that gave her students' families suggestions for "teacher" gifts. The best part? The presents benefitted the students too. Thanks to parents' collective efforts, Quinn received six Amazon Kindle Fire tablets, 22 books, and enough craft paper for her entire class. If your child's teacher hasn't sent an email or letter home with the link to their Wishlist, consider asking them to create one.
"I really enjoy receiving gift cards for an experience, such as dinner and a movie," says Deborah Schumm, a kindergarten teacher in Downingtown, Pennsylvania. Gift certificates to coffee shops, spas or nail salons, bookstores, sporting goods stores (for coaches), retailers like Target, and even (yes) restaurants with happy hours are also good bets. If you're concerned that a gift card is impersonal, take it from teacher Kathy Sinacori in Newport Beach: "It sure beats getting 40 mugs."
Wine gets you through your kid's homework, and it can help his teacher get through grading it. Go with this option only if you know the teacher likes wine and you can deliver it off school grounds. (Most districts have a strict zero-tolerance policy against alcohol on school property.) Go a step further with a customized bottle label from Evermine.
Everyone loves having something to look forward to and, of all people, don't teachers deserve an escape? Pool your money with other parents to send your children's educator on a well-earned weekend getaway.
Upgrade their standard-issue office chair with something more attractive and ergonomic. Amazon has dozens of top-rated options. This is another great gift idea for the whole class to coordinate.
Most educators don't get into the industry of molding little minds for the money or gifts. What (likely) gives them the greatest satisfaction is knowing they made a positive impact on their pupils. A sincere thank-you note from your child—or a scrapbook compilation of letters from the whole class—will be cherished (and reread on down days) for years to come.
Find out what their favorite food is and arrange for an appropriate Seamless delivery during their lunch break.
This is especially thoughtful for a music or band teacher. Find out who their favorite artists are and check TicketMaster to find out when they're coming to town. Passes to a favorite sports team's game work too.
The reality is that many teachers are overworked and underpaid. When all other gift ideas fail, cash is king. Wrap it in a pretty box or collect enough from the whole class to make a money tree.
At the beginning of the school year, I hand out a questionnaire to my kids' teachers, asking about their favorite color, restaurant, sports team, beverage, candy, and snack. We also ask if there's anything special they collect. With these lists, our family has been able to make our presents more personal. — Shelly Frederick; Bella Vista, AR
Our family loves to take pictures of nature. We turn our favorites into notecards to give to teachers. — Amy Leach;Menomonie, WI
Our family likes to give homemade preserved foods, such as jams and salsas. I always take a picture of the kids helping with one of the steps, turning the crank while making applesauce, for instance, and use that photograph as the gift tag. This idea has been a hit for a couple of years now. — Anna Hammari;Foresthill, CA
Last year I put together an outdoor relaxation kit as a present from the whole class. In the kit was a hammock, a book on hiking in the area, and a water bottle. The teacher loved it! — Julie Monahan; Overland Park, KS
We created a "cake" made out of school supplies, including packs of crayons, pencils, tissues—things a teacher would normally buy for her classroom. — Leah Dixon; Phoenix, AZ
Teachers never get any help dismantling their classrooms at the end of the year, so we always give a certificate for one day of labor. They appreciate the assistance. — Mariellen Haen; Sturgeon Bay, WI
Each child in the class gets a piece of cardstock to be customized with artwork, a photograph, or a letter to the teacher. A parent collects the pages from everyone and turns them into a sweet scrapbook —Rebecca Shields;Mahwah, NJ
Baked goods with the recipe attached are always nice. I have also loved the many Christmas tree ornaments I have received over the past 30 years and still hang them on my tree. — Deborah Schumm; Downingtown, PA