Do’s and Don’ts for Teacher Gifts

September 18, 2013


I taught Kindergarten in inner–city and lower income schools in Florida. Gift giving time was practically nonexistent, unlike my friend who taught in private schools in Atlanta. At Christmastime, she told me students had surprised her with several designer handbags and other nice trinkets. If I received a half–eaten box of chocolates or a pencil, it was a good teacher day. And sometimes – those gifts proved to be better than any designer handbag.

Although teachers would be the first to tell you that you are never required to give them any sort of gift, and a few years ago, the Baldwin County Board of Education stepped in and created a new rule that basically said we were only allowed to give teachers the equivalent of a used pack of nail files . . . or else . . . well, sometimes it’s just nice to let someone know they are appreciated.

There’s a line between overdoing it and making the other kids feel bad, and not giving anything at all, so here are a few “do’s” and “don’ts” I’ve learned over the years for giving teacher gifts. Our hardworking educators in Baldwin County are far to sweet to say these things, so I’ll do it for them.


Do: Send a brief word of encouragement, because this is often better than cake (depending on what kind of cook you are).   A quick sticky note on the forehead of your child that says, “Johnny loved the puppet show you did last Friday. He talked about it all weekend,” makes the teacher glad she sat up all night, burning her fingers with hot glue and making the x#!* puppets in the first place.
Don’t: Deliver your gift in the midst of a chaotic crowd. When the teacher’s desk is piled with gifts, and unless they have a clear tag that won’t fall off, teachers often can’t remember who brought the gift. Insensitive? Not at all – remember, there are 30 kids jumping up and down in the room and on the first day, the teacher isn’t even sure which student is Courtney, Kourtney or Quartney. Who put the calorie laden Kit Kat arrangement on her desk vs. who put the cholesterol heavy Snickers arrangement on her desk can sometimes get confusing. If it’s a busy party day, deliver the goodies a day or two ahead of time to avoid confusion.
Do: Offer to clean things. The chemical compound in snot gets as hard as the Vulcan’s buns after it sits for a few days. The teacher gets tired of scrubbing down the puzzle pieces herself and would absolutely hate asking anyone to do this job for her. Sanitizing all the Legos every now and then is a huge help and also keeps the Department of Health happy.


Don’t: Go for the obvious. The truth hurts, but teacher-themed knickknacks like plastic apple wreaths, or plaques that say, “Worlds Best Teacher” or coffee mugs that say “You’ve Got Class” end up in the garage sale. And then the teacher across the hall will get them the next year.
And in my years of getting and giving, what do I think is the most appreciated gift for an educator? Dinner for her family. Not just a certificate to a restaurant where she’ll have to “put on her face” and find matching shoes for her kids, but a good home cooked Pyrex full of love, or what we in the South call, a “casserole.” After hearing your name called 8,000 times, reviewing fractions for the 42 and a half of a half time, sitting through a faculty meeting, and breaking up 3 arguments (in the faculty meeting), I say, “This woman (or man) deserves a casserole!”


I’ve sent both homemade and catered dishes that the teacher can eat that night, or stick in the freezer, and they have cried tears of joy. I popped it in the teacher’s lounge refrigerator with their name on it, along with a loaf of French bread, a bag of salad mix – and there it was – developmentally appropriate teacher love.


But when I think back to the few gifts given to me, the one I treasure most is a gum machine plastic gold ring. Some type of animal, perhaps a cougar, with one shimmering sapphire eye is featured on the front, the other eye long lost somewhere along the trek to school. Terrence gave it to me when he found out I was getting married and moving away at the end of the year. One morning after story time, he pressed it into my hand and whispered, “Please don’t leave.” Nineteen years later, it still sits in my jewelry box and from time to time, I slip it on my finger.
Okay – the ring beats a casserole any day.

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  1. The most popular gift for teachers here near Seattle is Starbucks gift cards. Since I love coffee (actually prefer Tully’s over Starbucks) the cards are a great gift for me.

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