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Written by a teacher.
Let me say, to begin, that being a teacher is one of the greatest gifts in the world. I’m serious. Waking up every day knowing that what you do matters and that you are making a difference to children is amazing. Those of us who teach children do it because we feel passionate about it, and watching them grow and change is the only gift we need. We as teachers do not require or expect gifts from our students at the holidays.
That being said, anytime you let us know we are appreciated it means the world to us. By no means am I trying to say that as a teacher, I need a holiday gift, but, wow, does it mean the world to me when I do receive gifts. I know many of you already think about giving holiday gifts to your children’s teachers, so I wanted to give you a little bit of insight as to the gifts that teachers really want!
I surveyed many of my teacher friends, thinking that I would compile a great list for you of some of the best gifts that they have received. Well, that pretty much failed, as the responses from everyone were exactly the same. I asked high school, middle school, and elementary teachers. I got ideas from men, women, main content areas, and specials teachers. Every answer was identical.
Homemade foods are huge at Christmas! Since you're wanting to give teachers a gift to truly express your appreciation, I think it's important to note that most teachers I spoke with prefer other gifts over homemade food. For the most part, schools are full of holiday treats for the entire time between Thanksgiving and Christmas, and it takes a will of steel for school staff not to gain 100 pounds. We can’t possibly eat all the amazing treats made for us. Finally, food allergies are a concern for many teachers in addition to diet preferences. Better to avoid this scenario all together.
Another popular gift item for teachers are coffee mugs. Most teachers already have way too many mugs, so if you're going to give a mug, make sure that it's sentimental or specific to that teacher. The male teachers I surveyed mentioned getting mugs of favorite sports teams that they liked to keep at school. Also, I have personally received 2 mugs that were very meaningful to me. As an English teacher, receiving a mug with a map of Hogwarts (the marauders’ map, no less!!) was amazing. I was also given an amazing mug with a significant quote on it which related to some of the works that we studied. If you want to go the mug route, just remember, try to make it really personal and meaningful!
Above food and mugs, there was one resounding answer from most teachers of their preferred present…GIFT CARDS! Don't panic, these don't have to be high in value. Even a $5 gift card to Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts means we can grab a lovely beverage while we enjoy the holidays. You can make them really cute and festive by including a themed thank you note, like “Thanks a Latte!” One teacher I polled was a long term sub, and he loved receiving a $5 Subway gift card with a card that read, “Thanks for being the best sub ever!”
You can also go in with a few other parents if you want to do a larger gift card. While it may be easy to gift your child's one teacher when they are younger, as students get older, they may have many teachers. It's ok to choose your child's favorite teacher and only focus on gifting them. We, as teachers, understand that you can't always gift everyone, and that's ok! There are other students who will choose us as the one they want to give a holiday gift to. It's also nice to give your teacher a copy of your family holiday card. It feels special to receive such a personal card and have that as a momento of a student.
Finally, the very best gifts to get as a teacher are the ones that clearly communicate that a student has been engaged in our class, both with what we are learning and with who we are. One of the best things about teaching is getting to know and care about our incredible students, so it's very meaningful when a student reflects on that for a gift. I have two great examples to share with you. One friend of mine, an art teacher, was asked to sponsor one of her students for her confirmation. During that time, the art teacher shared a personal story about her grandmother with this student. Later, as a thank you gift, that student gave her a necklace with a locket, containing a quote her grandmother had said, “Look for God everywhere. It isn't difficult… Look outdoors, in nature, in animals, in people. Be thankful every day.” My friend wears this necklace all the time.
The best gift I ever received was a 2 page handwritten letter from a student. This student included a poem he had written, modeled after work we had done in class, and outlined how important my class had been to him. He shared, “Growing up is going to be hard for me, but at least I'll have something you didn't know you taught me this year. Watching you teach our class so animatedly and so, well, yourself, really taught me not to be afraid of what people think. Of all the things you taught me this year, I'll always remember that.” No gift in the world can compare to a student sharing how important you are to them. He also gave me a momento that he considered to be his lucky charm and wished me all the luck in the future.
As I said when I started this post, we don't need a holiday gift from all of our students, because we consider knowing them to be a gift. But if you do want to give a gift to your teacher this year, make sure that is says something about how much they mean to you, not just that you have checked them off of your list. Also, remember that it's ok for the gift to simply be a heartfelt thank you note. Gifts that are thoughtful and meaningful are the very best kind to receive!