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Teachers' Gifts Made Easy: The Truth About What They Want and What They Don't

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I’ve always struggled with what to get teachers for the holidays and at the end of the year. So I asked my readers, specifically those that are (or have been) teachers, for their thoughts and advice. I got hundreds of answers on Facebook, Twitter and in the comments section. I asked for the truth and I got it!

Here was my goal with this:

Figure out what teachers really want and need, so that we can all avoid dealing with stuff that is expensive, stupid and unnecessary.

Here's what I learned:

Teachers don’t expect to be given gifts, but appreciate very much them when they are given. Teachers are extremely grateful when families take the time to think of them and appreciate their hard work.

That being said, please consider the following:

• They have lots of students.

• They have lots of students every year.

• They have a limited capacity to store trinkets and knick knacks from their students.

Here’s an example: You see a mug with an apple and a pencil on it and think, this would be perfect! But I want you to imagine getting a mug describing your job (#1 Accountant!). Then imagine getting five or more of pretty much the same mug - every single year. While teachers genuinely appreciate the thought, they probably don’t want mugs, teacher-themed knick-knacks, or anything with apples on them.

Ditto with candles. Candles were mentioned over and over again. As were scented lotions, hand creams, and body washes. It's a really nice thought but most teachers get tons of them and many prefer to pick the scent they use themselves.

Also, while teachers appreciate the time invested in making something, they usually don't have room to keep all the craft projects and Pinterest-type presents they receive. And then they feel really bad when they can't keep them and the point is not to make them feel guilty for not keeping something they don't have room for. As I am personally craft-impaired - this made me irrationally happy.

Another no-no? Home-made treats. While some teachers like them, many more stated that they rarely ate the home-made treats because they were dieting or had food allergies or were just very careful about eating food prepared in kitchens they were unfamiliar with. Totally understandable.

So here's a list of things NOT to get for teachers:

• Candles

• Mugs

• Anything teacher or apple-themed

• Craft projects (including Pinterest projects)

• Large framed photos or art (limited room)

• Home-made treats

Moving on to what teachers do want! The number one thing mentioned was not gift cards, or bottles of wine, or even cash... It was hand-written notes from kids or parents about what the teacher had meant to the student. Nearly every teacher mentioned that these notes and letters were the thing that they kept, treasured and reread again years later, the things that really meant the most to them.

Teachers also frequently mentioned that they didn't care how much you spend. This was a big relief to me because where we live, people can go crazy with the teacher gifts and frankly - we just can't compete. I can’t stress this enough, teachers get it. Most of them are parents, too.

Next to a handwritten note, a gift card to a favorite place, a coffee shop near the school or a store where the teacher may spend their own money on classroom stuff is always welcome. Some teachers warned us to be thoughtful where the gift cards were for, as they may not get used. For example, buying a gift card for a mani/pedi at a place that's inconvenient or for a store that the teacher maybe can't afford (like a $10 card for a high end department store where nothing costs $10).

Many people mentioned that their schools or PTA's collect a list of what teachers like (or need) so you can do a little intelligence gathering that way. If you want be certain that your gift is genuinely useful and benefits what’s happening in the classroom, this is the way to go. A mom I know just told me that such a list exists for our school and I never even knew about it!

So here's a very short list of things you SHOULD get teachers:

• A note or letter recalling what their time has meant with your child. (We can not stress enough that this was by far the most mentioned, appreciated and wanted item.)

• A gift card.

• Something they need or really like that has been identified on a teacher wish list.

My take-away from reading all the comments was this:

If you want to hit a home run with your teacher's end of the year gift, have your child write a letter and pair it up with a small gift card. The end.

Here's a few more things to keep in mind:

High school and middle school teachers: The older your kid gets, the less likely their teacher is to receive a gift. If a middle or high school teacher has done a great job, a note and a small gift card will be a great surprise and very much appreciated.

Day care teachers and child care workers: Day care providers are also teachers and they totally deserve some recognition, too. With daycare, sometimes "the end of the year" gets muddled - because there is no summer vacation.

Assistant teachers: Apparently, they don't expect to get the exact same present as the teacher. They're happy to get something that acknowledges their contribution to the classroom, which we all know is very important.

Special ed and resource teachers: These folks work really hard on behalf of our kids and are often over-looked. If your child is getting extra help, consider a little something for these hard-working teachers.

Non-tenured teachers: Sometimes the best thing you can do for a new or non-tenured teacher is something that costs you nothing. This was mentioned several times and seems like such a great idea; write a letter to the Principal or Superintendent of Schools praising what a good job they did. Make sure the teacher is cc'ed on the letter. It goes into their personnel file and could really help them when hiring and tenure decisions are made.

Support Staff: If your kid is always in the nurse's office or bugging the librarian - why not send them a nice note at the end of the year, too?

I hope this is helpful! Happy Holidays!

An earlier version of this post appeared on Rants from Mommyland.

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