Ask any teacher who has been at the job longer than a couple of school terms, and you'll probably discover she has enough "best teacher" mugs, commemorative plaques and ceramic apples to last a lifetime. Not that you'll find many teachers complaining about the holiday gifts they receive, though. Teachers are probably pretty appreciative of any recognition for a job well done. When you have an opportunity to say "thank you" to your child's teacher, it's nice to give a special gift that will be truly appreciated. We've compiled a list of 10 gifts that are bound to fit the bill and earn you a big "A" in the gift-giving department. Remember, you're never obligated to offer a present to a teacher, but if you want to acknowledge a special educator in your child's life, there's something here for every budget -- from free on up.
10: Group Gifts
The money you spend on a gift could go much farther if you pool resources with other parents and go in on a group gift. A certificate for a spa day, a nice dinner out or theater tickets might be beyond any single family's budget, but five, 10 or 15 families pooling their resources may be able to purchase a luxury item for a deserving teacher without breaking the piggy bank. Clearly, this won't work in every situation, but if your child's class has a friendly group of involved parents with a desire to give something special, it's a thoughtful option.
For the 2008-09 school year, the average salary for public school teachers in the United States was $53,910.
Most teachers keep at least a few mementos from special students. Some keep scrapbooks while others collect things, like ornaments. One nice thing about giving a seasonal ornament to a teacher is that it can be boxed up with the rest of the holiday decorations and become part of a yearly collection. Ornaments are a perfect size, small but not insignificant. Better yet, crystal, brass and silver ornaments can be engraved with the year and your child's name as a permanent reminder.
If this is too formal, your child can fashion an ornament masterpiece for his favorite teacher using a three inch Styrofoam ball, glue and glitter. Many retired educators find that handmade and heartfelt sentiments are the most touching anyway.
8: Handmade Gifts
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From self-portraits to holiday greetings written in crayon, you can't beat a child's imagination for creating a memorable and welcome teacher's gift. The sentiments can be far-reaching, and the gift is virtually free. If you think teachers get hundreds of these mementos, you may be surprised. Many teachers with extensive collections of "World's Best Teacher" mugs would probably trade them all in for one authentic, creative reminder that a great kid thinks they're the best educator ever. Even if you decide to give your child's teacher a different gift, consider including a piece of art created by your child along with it. It's a wonderful way to include your child in the gift giving hoopla and maybe make a special memory.
7: Food Items
Your child's school may have a policy that forbids offering gifts to teachers. Before you start wrapping that nice pen and pencil set, check with the administrator's office to be sure you aren't creating a potentially uncomfortable situation.
Teachers receive lots of food gifts, but few complain. The gift of specialty food items -- whether they're purchased or homemade -- is a time-honored way to show appreciation. Although a box of chocolates, a fruit basket, mail order desserts and gourmet coffee blends are good choices, where food is concerned, it's always best to know a teacher's preferences beforehand. If your favorite teacher is a tea drinker, the best South American coffee blend will be a bit of a letdown no matter how rare it is. Health and diet issues can be important considerations, too. Food allergies or a steely determination to lose those last five baby pounds may keep your favorite teacher from enjoying the bounty, so be sure to do some checking before you bake or shop.
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On the surface, this may sound crass, but many teachers are underpaid, and a little extra green in their stocking could make a big difference during the holiday season. When you absolutely don't know what to give, cash is a very versatile choice that no one regrets receiving. To personalize your gift, have your child write the card, or include a card containing cash in a batch of homemade muffins or cookies.
If you're still not comfortable with giving the gift of cash, consider donating money in the teacher's name to a charity of their choosing. The gift will have much more significance if it's a donation to the teacher's favorite charity and not yours. A brief conversation should yield some useful clues that will help you make a good choice. You can do this locally or on a grander scale and go global. Either way, it's a personal gift that will not only benefit you and the teacher, but the recipients as well.
5: Offer Up Your Time
You may adore your child's teacher, but don't overdo the gift giving. Some people consider lavish gifts inappropriate and embarrassing. Even if you're only trying to demonstrate your gratitude, your actions might be misconstrued as a bribe for special treatment, too.
If gift giving is frowned on at your child's school, you could show your appreciation by volunteering your own time and/or supplies for the class. Offer a few afternoons by helping out in the classroom. Of, if time is tight, offer to foot the bill for the holiday party for the entire class. Remember, gifts don't have to be tangible things. Some of the most appreciated gifts are just you being there.
4: Personal Care Items
Sometimes, personal items fall flat as gifts, but there are a few choices that teachers find particularly welcome, like hand sanitizer, stain remover and hand lotion. If you know a teacher's fragrance preferences, personal care products like bubble bath, bath soap and cologne can be good choices, too. Choosing this kind of gift is a judgment call, so use some caution. Be sure you know what the teacher likes and will use before you spend the money. If you've caught a whiff of her wearing a recognizable cologne, that's great. If not, don't assume that the on-sale body splash from your local grocery store will be a welcome gift.
3: Heartfelt Notes and Cards
According to the U.S. Department of Education Institute of Education Sciences, in 2008, 76 percent of public school teachers were female.
If you ask a group of teachers about the types of gifts they like the best, notes from students and written sentiments from parents consistently top the list. You'd think after a few decades of teaching, teachers would become less connected to their students and start to think of the process as a job instead of a calling, but happily, that's not the way it works. Teachers have a big influence on the way your child views the world around him, and most of these dedicated professionals take their jobs very seriously. If you feel grateful for a teacher's vision, sensitivity and commitment, write him a note to explain why. It's one of the best gifts you can give a teacher, and one that's likely to be remembered long after the bell rings.
2: School Supplies
Teachers often spend part of their own salary on school supplies. Depending on where you live, your child's teacher may be buying pencils, paper, rulers, chalk, markers, crayons, books and any number of art supplies. You can help defray those costs by buying some of those materials yourself, providing cash for supplies or giving your child's teacher a gift certificate to a local office supply, variety or art store. It isn't the most dramatic or personal gift you could choose, but it's one that will almost certainly be appreciated. If you know that supplies are needed at your child's school, watch for sales and collect supplies throughout the school year. That way you'll have them ready when the occasion calls for it.
1: Gift Cards and Certificates
Before you run out and buy that houseplant for your child's teacher, think again. A teacher is no more likely to have a green thumb than anyone else. Why not consider a nice bouquet of cut flowers instead. It may not last as long, but there won't be any guilt when the flowers die, either.
One of the nice things about gift cards is that they're flexible without appearing detached or unfriendly. You can often choose the design of the card or certificate for a personalized look, too. Let your child choose what type of gift card suits his teacher best. Gift cards are a big favorite among teachers and a convenient choice for parents. Whether you opt for a variety or department store card with lots of buying options or choose a specialty store card for a location where you know your favorite teacher will be able to indulge a passion for chocolate or French milled soap, a gift card is a sure winner.