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On the Coast Magazine

Thanking your Child's Teacher

05/06/2014 08:38AM ● Published by Nancy Babin

The end of the school year is fast approaching, and you’d like to thank your child’s classroom teacher with a special gift. But what do teachers really want? I was a teacher for several years before having my own children, and I’ve spoken to countless other teachers. Yes, most will graciously accept another “World’s Greatest Teacher” mug or mini chalkboard knickknack. But unless the teacher is collecting such items to use in a career-long assemblage project, they are best left on the store shelves. 

The following are some can’t-go-wrong teacher gift ideas. (And be sure to check school policies, as many districts limit the value and type of gifts received by employees.) 

Personal notes. A handwritten note, along with a card made by your child is by far one of the best-loved teacher gifts. Most teachers light up when talking about the “words of wisdom” they’ve collected from students. These are keepsakes, cherished and saved for years to come. 

If you are writing a letter to your child’s teacher, be specific about what she is doing well. Instead of writing, “You’re a great teacher!” try “I loved how you nurtured Lucy’s excitement for science with lots of hands-on activities. She always looked forward to writing status notes in the class log when it was her turn to take care of the guinea pig.” Consider making a copy of your letter for the principal to put in the teacher’s file. 

Creative lists. If your child is young or does not enjoy writing, there are many clever ways to list what he loves about being in his teacher’s class. For instance, cut some construction paper shapes—hearts, leaves, flowers. Attach a word or phrase to each one, describing a favorite classroom experience or teacher trait. Stuff an envelope with several “shape messages,” along with a small (wallet-sized) signed photo of your child. 

Gift cards. Although parents often say this feels like an impersonal gift, teachers love gift cards. They can choose what they want to buy and when. It’s a sad fact that most teachers spend more than $500 of their own money annually in purchasing classroom materials. Thus, gift cards to Target, Staples, and Barnes & Noble are universally appreciated. 

Unless you know the teacher’s diet and habits well, take care in giving gift cards for food and personal services. Most teachers would welcome a Starbuck’s card, but some might not be as enthused about trying the newest hotspot in raw foods cuisine. And make sure any spa services are flexible. 

Food gifts. Teachers do enjoy edible gifts. Yet, they frequently receive so many home-baked muffins and cookies that much is thrown away. Keep in mind that many teachers leave town for vacation as soon as school lets out. And some won’t want to sabotage a diet with an influx of sweets. The best food gifts are non-perishable and healthy. Energy bars, nuts, and dried fruit are at a premium. They can be stored and saved for a quick snack, whether she’s studying the new curriculum or flying across the country. 

Class gifts. Although it often takes a bit more planning, there are many benefits to presenting a gift from the whole group. Such a gift can show off the class’s personality, reduce the financial expenditure for individual families, and avoid any pretenses of favoritism. If the group decides to go in on a gift card, the teacher can be presented with much greater buying power. (At only $5 a head, a class of 25 could give a $125 gift card, without violating most district policies.) 

When coordinating such efforts, it is important that the gift be presented from all students, whether or not they contributed financially, and all students should have a chance to sign the group card. 

Sidebar 
The “You Really Shouldn’t Have!” List 

Consider the number of students a teacher has each year, think of her space limitations, and just say no to: 

Mugs and knickknacks. If just three students give her a “Greatest Teacher” coffee cup each year, she’ll soon have enough to open her own thrift store. 

Scented lotions and candles. Fragrance is a very personal preference. Also, these items proliferate as quickly as mugs. 

Over-sized or framed pictures. She’ll love a small school photo of your child with a personal note. Anything larger is an encumbrance. 

Candy and homemade food. Don’t risk it unless you know the teacher well. Food piles up fast, and she might be avoiding sweets for health reasons. 
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