With Thanksgiving finally over and Christmas allowed its full reign of supremacy (or during the onset of that dratted “Teacher Appreciation Week”), many parents find themselves struggling with the age old question...yeah, you know the one: What in the world can I get for that teacher who is educating my child?
Well, perhaps, after throwing up your hands in frustration (figuratively, not literally) and racking your brain for ideas you finally decided to turn to the Internet in hopes to find something - anything - that will help you as you try to find the perfect gift. Well, I’m here to yell you that you’ve come to the right place for the answer. But before we begin, please remember that most teachers don’t expect lavish gifts from their students—a hand drawn picture or a sincere ‘thanks’ as they exit the classroom can be the most valuable and cherished gifts your child can give, and these will most certainly be treasured by the teacher than many others simply grabbed off a shelf at the local Walmart and thrown into a shopping cart.
In a word or eight: gifts are nice, but they really aren’t expected.
With that being said, let us move on to what I call The Needed 9—I would have called it the Terrific 10, but 9 was all I was able to come up with for now…what can I say? It’s late and I’m tired.
Rule 1: If you wouldn’t like this gift, then there’s a good chance the teacher wouldn’t like it either.
Most people tend to forget that teachers are real people. They have interests, lives, and even things that they do outside of school. There are only so many paperweights and green neckties with 2 Teach is 2 Touch a Life 4 Ever emblazoned upon them that one can stomach. Sometimes, what a teacher wants is something that doesn’t have anything to do with school, but rather with them as a person.
Rule 2: Candy is a big no.
Candy is probably the WORST gift you could ever give. Many teachers are finding it difficult to stay in shape when trapped in a classroom all day—couple this with the fact that they sit, correct papers, and enter grades long after the students are gone. When they’re given boxes of Hershey’s Treasures for Christmas and four our five chocolate oranges you’re not doing them any favors; plus the fact that these things are, quite simply, about the most disgusting things on the planet.
I take that back, that title is reserved solely for Peeps.
However, if you do choose to get your teacher something in regards to sweets, remember that quality has much more value than quantity after you’ve reached a certain age…Heck, I remember being a kid and when given a choice between a pint of Ben & Jerry’s or a full gallon of Snow Star (the Safeway generic, flat, nasty ice cream) I’d have taken the Snow Star every time. When I was a kid the formula was simple:
More = Better.
This type of logic only works until puberty hits—or perhaps young-adulthood. The point is that somewhere along the lines one starts to develop taste and the cheap and nasty just won’t cut it any longer.
If you are planning on getting your teacher something along the sweet lines, try for something they like. Do a little digging, do they like Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups or caramel-dipped apples rolled in Skor and Butterfinger? By finding out just what it is that the teacher likes through a little covert research, you will more likely give a gift that is remembered and valued. This is a much better alternative to those items dropped into the trash on the teacher’s way out of the classroom, or given freely to nieces and nephews who’ll eat just about anything provided that there’s sugar in it.
Rule 3: Knickknacks are a waste of everybody’s time, shelf space, and money.
Look around a teacher’s classroom. There are often little hints as to things that they like. Don’t go straight for the ‘knickknack paddy crap’ shelf where they’re displaying all of the porcelain dogs and Garfield mugs that have accumulated over the years—and are now gathering a layer of very thick dust. These are only there because the teacher didn’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings. They’re worried that Joey will come back after fifteen years and not see the shot glass he picked up at a roadside truck stop in Nebraska, and feel crushed that his teacher didn’t save it for all these years.
Can I just start now saying that I, as a teacher, don’t appreciate stuffed animals and toys? Things that tend to clutter shelves are not really my forte – and most of the other teachers I know don’t like having shelves teeming with this that and the other—a smorgasbord of the strange and dollar store.
As a friend of mine once was eloquently observed, it never looks attractive when it appears that “the Knickknack Fairy threw up all over the shelves.”
So remember, if you ever walk into a teacher’s domain and think, “Wow, they have a lot of crap in here.” don’t be a contributor to the problem and pawn off more stuff they’ll have to display in the future. Believe me, they’ll thank you.
Rule 4: Mugs and ties = Lame sauce.
The mug with the teddy bear on the side sporting messages like, “Teachers bear the love of others.’ Just about make me puke. They don’t end up in my home, but usually wind up as proceeds in the box that makes it’s way to the local thrift industries store at least once a year.
I know; I’m crazy.
Just a quick rule of thumb, if it has a cutesy run-of-the-mill saying stamped on it, it’s probably lame.
(See again Rule 1).
Rule 5: Ask about the obvious.
One good thing to remember is that you can nearly always drop subtle questions and get the teacher to talking about their interests in books, music, or even the type of beverages they enjoy; doing this can ensure that you pick something they will most certainly love…a CD they’ve been wanting to listen to, or a book they just haven’t had the time to run out and get.
One teacher I know got a case of Diet Coke with lime for Christmas one year. She went on to say that it completely made her day…it was a gift she said she’d never forget.
Rule 6: Handmade is always appreciated.
What’s something that you can’t seem to go wrong with? Well, for me, it’s often something my students have made with their parents. I just can’t tell you just how much a pair of wooden bookends mean to me fashioned into the letter “Z.” Not only are these useful, they mean a lot because the boy who made them put in the effort. He even wrote a message on the bottom that I would find myself reading from time to time and remembering his quirky mannerisms and the good times when he was my student.
Other memorable gifts have been a pair of knitted gloves with open fingers for photo shoots when it’s cold, homemade magnets of the letter Z, a stuffed ‘Hobbes’ a student copied onto graph paper and then changed the measurements to create a more ‘real world’ sized version. These are just a few of the items that have withstood the test of time and have found a place of permanent residence in my classroom.
Rule 7: Gift Certificates are nearly always winners.
Even if you don’t want to take the time to figure out what a particular teacher likes, you can never really go wrong with a gift certificate to the movies, a restaurant they like, or an online venue like iTunes or Amazon. With these a teacher can pick what they’d like, or what suits their taste. However, getting a gift certificate to Jason’s Deli with no balance on it is probably not the best option.
It does send quite the clear message though…
Rule 8: Purchase something for the classroom itself.
One great item that you can always give that has lasting longevity is something useful for the classroom. For example, take a look at the teacher’s set of guided reading books and find a few titles that are starting to show signs that they aren’t going to last much longer...books being handled by students over the span of years - no matter how carefully they treat them - tend to wear out. Replacing a few books saves a teacher quite a bit of money and gives your child a gift they can use as well.
Another great way to get your child involved is to have your son or daughter select a few of their favorite books for the classroom library (provided your teacher has one), and then have them write a message inside the front cover (one they wouldn’t mind other students reading). The great thing about this type of gift is that it provides new book titles your child and their peers are currently reading - those the teacher may not yet be aware of. Also, it will be a present enjoyed by many others and not just another knickknack to sit uselessly on a shelf. (See Rule #3).
Rule 9: If in doubt, don’t.
Some people get that feeling inside right before they give a gift. It’s that little Jiminy Cricket voice which seems to whisper, “You really shouldn’t give this as a gift.”
That, my friends, is intuition. I say we should listen to this voice far more often than we really do. If you question whether or not a particular gift will be liked, just say no. Trust me, it seems that 9 times out of 10, that little voice knows exactly what it’s talking about.
Well, that’s about all for the moment…the Needed 9 that will (hopefully) help you in your quest to show that educator how much you appreciate them. But never forget, though gifts are nice, the best way to show your teacher you care about them is to tell them.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to go dust and sort my porcelain unicorn collection…
P.S. Just for the record, one of my all-time favorite gifts from a student, I’ll call him Joey, was this.