What Are the Best Gifts for Teachers?

Teacher Gifts | CorporetteMomsIt’s (somehow) that time again: the end of the school year, and that means it’s time to find gifts for your kids’ teachers. But what sort of present should you give? An edible gift? A gift card for Starbucks, or Amazon, or Target? A gift card to buy classroom supplies? A handmade present from your child? It can be a challenge to find the holy grail of gifts, something that is:

  • thoughtful and meaningful
  • not too cheap-looking, or too expensive
  • likely to be appreciated by the teacher
  • not something he or she will also get from a bunch of your kid’s classmates
  • not destined to end up as a Pinterest Fail (beware, fellow moms; beware the Pinterest rabbit-hole)

Oh yes, and it would also be nice if this perfect gift were available through Amazon Prime. (Two-day shipping, I love you.) As a busy working mom, it can be hard to even find the time to think about this stuff, much less go out and actually shop for gifts.

This year, my efforts were last minute as usual. (Why don’t I think of these things in, say, April and just get them done early? Sigh.) I did a little “research” this year (i.e., Googled the topic; see “Further Reading,” below) and the message came through loud and clear — in general, teachers like to receive gift cards (for themselves and also for classroom supplies), homemade items from their students, and thoughtful notes from parents. If asked, they typically do not want desk-cluttering tchotchkes like mugs, candles, or apple-themed gifts; or perfume and other scented products.

On, um, the second-to-last day of school, I dutifully did as the Internet told me. I bought a grocery store gift card for J’s main teacher, and — also available at the grocery store — Starbucks gift cards for the assistant teacher (the one man of the group), occupational therapist, and SEIT (a traveling special education teacher; the I stands for “itinerant”). Later that day I gave my son crayons and stickers and four blank, white cards to decorate, and I wrote I am going to write an appreciative thank-you note for each teacher/therapist as well. I added some chocolate to each gift bag — I was aiming for somewhere between Hershey and L.A. Burdick, so I went with Godiva and Ghirardelli. (By the way, some school districts and states have rules in place — ranging from suggestions to actual laws — that set limits on what families can spend on teachers’ gifts.)

I’m satisfied with the gift-giving this year; with her grocery store gift card, J’s teacher can buy anything from lunch to classroom supplies to broccoli to beer, and if the other three gift recipients don’t happen to be coffee-drinkers, they can find plenty of other goodies at Starbucks. Personally, I would rather give individual gifts than go in on a class gift, but I can also see the advantages of group presents. Do you have a preference? What amount do you think is appropriate to spend, and do you like to give “things,” or gift cards, or even cash? Do you spend more or less than you do at the holidays?

What are you planning to give your child’s teacher(s) this year? If your kid’s school year is already over, what did you choose to give? Have you ever given something that was a big hit? 

Further reading:

  • A Heartfelt Thank You, and Nine Other Great Teacher Gift Ideas [New York Times]
  • The Best Gifts to Say “Thank You” to Your Child’s Teacher [PopSugar Moms]
  • 9 Dos & Don’ts of Teacher Gifts Every Parent Should Know [Today]
  • Year-End Gifts Your Children’s Teachers Really Want [Alpha Mom]
  • The Truth About Teacher Gifts [Rants from Mommyland]

(Pictured at top: I Like You Ms. Cleaver, originally uploaded to Flickr by Todd Shirley.)

A note for readers: We realize that some schools ended classes weeks ago, while others won’t end for weeks still… Forgive us if the timing is off for you on this discussion!


N.B. These substantive posts are intended to be a source of community comment on a particular topic, which readers can browse through without having to sift out a lot of unrelated comments. And so, although of course we highly value all comments by our readers, we’re going to ask you to please keep your comments on topic; threadjacks will be deleted at our sole discretion and convenience. Thank you for your understanding!


  1. mascot says:

    For the daycare teachers, we did Target gift cards. In our current school, the room parents organize the gifts. It’s been awesome. We give them cash (amount in our discretion) a couple of time a year and they use it to buy flowers/gift for teacher appreciation day and cash gifts at the holidays and years end.

  2. Turanga Leela says:

    Kate, thanks for spreading the word about this. I know a LOT of teachers and they all agree with the advice above: no apple-themed kitsch, no bath and beauty products. I would also steer clear of religious gifts unless you are positive that the teacher shares your faith.

    Gift cards, especially Starbucks cards, are perfect. If you want to buy something that the teacher can use for the classroom, get a gift card to Staples or Office Depot (or, if you don’t have one of those locally, to Target, Walmart, or a local office supply store). You don’t need to add anything personal other than a card, but the chocolate idea is nice. You could also attach the gift card to a book that you donate to the classroom.

    The only time I would give a thing, rather than a gift card, is if you are a professional-level artist. I have a teacher friend who has an amazing silver bracelet given by a parent who was a jeweler, and it’s a wonderful reminder of the family.

  3. I do gift cards. Now that DS1 is in elementary school, I buy gift cards through the scrip program (our school has Amex gift cards with no fee). I also participate in the school-wide (for daycare) and class-wide (for elementary school) gifts, so I don’t do anything extra for the resource teachers/directors etc. I spend $25 for end of year per teacher (as well as $25 per holiday and $10 for teacher appreciation week).

  4. Famouscait says:

    Do people typically give gifts when kiddo moves up from one room to another at daycare?

    • I do, if only because I don’t think our teachers make a lot, and they do wonderful, wonderful work with my babies.

    • Momata says:

      I wrote a card and brought in fresh donuts. I gave gift cards at the holidays.

    • I did for our recent transition, but, per my comment below, I really, really loved the teachers in her former room.

  5. EB0220 says:

    I usually do an Amazon gift card and personalize it with my kiddo’s picture. It’s clear that it’s from us and makes it a little personal without being just another random item to display. One year, I got insulated tumblers for each teacher (personalized with their initial) plus a smaller gift card but since then I’ve gone back to gift cards. I usually do them for teacher appreciation and holidays. I don’t always get a gift for the teachers when kiddo moves up but I definitely will for my baby’s infant teachers. She will have been with them for over a year when she moves up and they are just so wonderful.

  6. My child isn’t born yet (due this Fall), so maybe I don’t get it yet. But I have to ask– why must we do this? I feel like this is one of those traditions that started when moms all stayed at home, and now we get stuck doing it (someone please correct me if you have or know of a dad that takes care of this). I know these wonderful teachers spend all day with our kids, and I appreciate that, but I know no one brings me a gift for doing my job… Maybe I just need to adjust my attitude, or maybe when I have an actual child and an actual teacher, I will feel differently.

    • EB0220 says:

      I understand where you are coming from, but you may feel differently when you have an actual child. I feel like I am detaching a critical part of my body and leaving it with these people for a major portion of the day. I want to make them feel appreciated whenever I can.

    • EP-er says:

      I do it because the teachers work really hard during the school year. They are creative and patient and teach my child so much. And they are with my kid 7 hours every day. I don’t feel that it is too much to say “Thank You” even though it is their job. I enjoy being thanked and getting recognition at my job, so I don’t see why they would be any different! (And yes, where I work we get spontaneous recognition. It is a great motivator when you rearranged all of you weekend plans to meet a short notice deadline.)

    • Anon123 says:

      Alli, I agree, but maybe I don’t fully get it yet either because I don’t have one in school yet. I agree that teachers are overworked and underpaid, but they aren’t the only profession. Those of us that are lawyers in public service or govt work would consider our sect overworked and underpaid, and certainly unappreciated. There is no formal recognition at my job, and certainly no gifts. We don’t even celebrate birthdays or other life events (maybe that just makes our office a bunch of grumps–but it certainly helps with extra expenses and calories). I think it’s important to recognize hard work and dedication, and I know I will be grateful for those teaching my child when I cannot be there, but I just think gift giving is out of control. For teachers, we’re talking holidays, teacher appreciation week, and end of year… and now daycare? I didn’t even think of that. There are multiple teachers in each of those places. And when your child gets older, and they really have multiple teachers, do you gift to all? I just feel like gifts have gotten out of hand, even for family Christmas and birthdays. Then add gifts for holidays like Easter, VDay, etc (friends all go nuts for these too) and the myriad of graduation parties, christenings, engagement parties, gender reveals, and of course bridal showers and baby showers which I catch myself spending more and more on just to keep up. Does anyone else think it’s out of hand? I wish we didn’t value material items so much, but the truth is that I would look cheap when all the other moms give $25 gift cards to teachers, and I give a handmade card from my child.

      • Anon123 says:

        I guess after a little more thought, I am mostly outraged at gifts for daycare because I will already be paying an arm and a leg to send my child there! Hopefully at least for grade school we won’t be paying tuition so a couple small gifts wouldn’t kill us.

      • Honestly, I think your points are all valid, and I would have felt the same way before my baby started daycare. But having my baby in a daycare classroom with teachers I really, really love is valuable beyond measure to me, and I find myself *wanting* to give them gifts and nice notes to express my appreciation. Actually, I find myself in the surprising position of reminding myself not to go overboard. That said, it’s not a financial hardship to us to spend money on the teachers a few times a year, and I would probably feel differently if that were not the case.

    • I have two kids and this is kinda how I feel. It may be because my husband does 100% of the day care drop-offs unless he’s out of town (3-4 times a year), so I feel no connection to my daycare teachers. I’m sure they do a superb job, but I’ve never really gotten to know them.

  7. EP-er says:

    My eldest is just finishing up first grade. He has two teachers that job share. I bought each teacher a Target gift card and then split a bouquet of Costco flowers. He made each teacher a personalized construction paper card. “Dear Mrs. E — Thank you for being my teacher. Can you believe than in 1/2 day I am going to be a second grader! I liked all of the events in 1st grade, especially the Fun Run Popcorn. Thanks! Love, H. Claim your prize here: [and the gift card was taped under there.]”

    I think that so much is expected of the teachers, I don’t mind giving them a gift card that they can use on themselves/family/classroom. I am firmly against anything that needs to be displayed/stored. What surprised me most is that the teachers gave ME a gift for helping out in the classroom one day/week. I thought that was totally unnecessary! I was so happy to be able to get to know the kids better and spend some time engaged during the week — having teachers that would allow me to do that was gift enough!

    I am a little more uncertain on day cares, though — support teachers come & go and there isn’t really an end to the year. I suppose when your child moves up a room, but that is such a gradual process. I end up doing something at Christmas and then again during “Teacher Appreciation Week” — sometime in May.

  8. Meg Murry says:

    In our school district teachers often run out of school supplies partway through the year and wind up buying them with their own money. One well received gift we give for beginning of the year and teacher appreciation week is a bucket or bouquet of high quality freshly sharpened pencils. I order boxes of Made in USA pencils online, and then put my elementary school kid to work sharpening them (which he still thinks is fun).

    I didn’t do anything for the end of the year other than a thank you email, but our PTO just did a big teacher appreciation week. There were 2 really popular parts of teacher appreciation week:
    1) we had lunch brought in from a place similar to Chipotle where the teachers filled out a form the day before to get what they wanted. Greatly appreciated because most teachers only have 20 actual minutes for lunch or less, and by the time they drive somewhere to pick up lunch there is no time to actually eat it (if they can even find one open and serving lunch at 11 am) so most teachers have to pack every day or eat the school cafeteria food
    2) A few parents did an upgrade on the staff bathrooms with decent soap and real paper towels and toilet paper – it was a cheap and little touch, but the teachers loved it!

  9. CPA Lady says:

    I used to be a teacher. Things I hated getting– anything scented or a mug of any type, especially if it included a “make your own cocoa!” kit. I threw all of that crap away/donated to goodwill. Things that were awesome– gift cards. And one of my student’s mothers made these really cool earrings, which I loved, but of course that’s because I love fun earrings, which not everyone does.

    I gave my daughter’s 3 main daycare teachers $50 amazon gift cards and her two rotating/floating part time teachers $25 amazon gift cards at Christmas. I did the personalization with a picture of my daughter in her Christmas dress on the front. I think I’ll do a similar thing once she’s in school. Teachers and daycare teachers make so little money that I think anything I can do to let them get whatever they want is good.

  10. As a high school teacher, I just want to say yes to gift cards and no to many of the things Kat mentioned. And also, don’t be shy about asking about supplies. My school doesn’t even provide tissues, so even those can be a huge help. The other thing that always means a lot to me is if students or parents write a letter of appreciation–those have been priceless. I never got into my career for the money–which is good–there are few monetary rewards, but appreciation for what I do is super valued!

  11. We use a home daycare that’s year-round, so no end of the school year, no moving up to another room, etc. I’ll do gifts at the holidays. But does anyone in a similar situation do gifts at another time of the year? Teacher appreciation week or anything?

    • OCAssociate says:

      I do holidays/Xmas gift and a birthday gift. Usually gift cards, so she can get something for herself.

  12. Anonymous says:

    This was tricky enough when my son was in grade school, but when he moved up to middle school, the problem multiplied to more than I could afford. At winter break, I just gave things to a couple teachers who happened to mention things they needed for their classroom (ex: stress balls for the math teacher). For Teacher Appreciation day near the end of the year, we came up with vases (less than $2 each at IKEA) and a bouquet of flowers. He gave them to each teacher as he went through his day. They were helpful for the flowerssome of the other kids brought in.

  13. Mom of middle schooler. says:

    One other time I think I scored big with a bunch of teachers was the year my son was at a school that does a lot of team teaching. The teams met weekly, so I sent a huge Edible Arrangement for them to share. It was apparently a good break from the chocolates and candies they were otherwise receiving.

  14. Suzanne says:

    We have given vouchers for Manicures at a lovely nearby salon . very well received.

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