12 Gifts Teachers Actually Want (Hint: Not A Mug), According To A Teacher

There are certain holiday traditions that go along with parenthood: organizing the family photo for the cards; meeting Santa at the mall; checking out local light displays; making gingerbread houses. The shopping list gets longer, too, and the choices more complicated, especially if you're buying for the significant people in your child's life. And if one of those people happens to be your child's teacher, you might wonder: Exactly what holiday gifts do teachers want? Because they can be surprisingly hard to shop for.

As a teacher myself, I'm always genuinely touched when students (and their parents) give me anything. It's not so much the gift itself as it is the idea of showing appreciation for a job that's harder than it looks, and which doesn't always get the respect it deserves. So I'm happy with any kind of holiday thank-you.

But without meaning to sound ungrateful, there are some teacher gifts that are a little more useful than others. There's only so much room on our shelves for coffee mugs and inspirational signs, and some of us have sensitivity issues that make perfume and food a tricky choice. Other types of presents, on the other hand, are delightful and even unexpectedly handy.

Of course, parents aren't required to give anything at all to their children's teachers (and if your finances don't permit it, we totally understand). And if you're well enough acquainted with an educator to know they adore mugs or chocolate, then go for it. But if you do want to pick up something for your child's teacher and need some inspiration, here are some ideas to get you going.

Gift Card

Although it may seem impersonal, a gift card can be a welcome treat for teachers who don't get much time for themselves. I've spent many pleasant hours over winter break savoring coffees with the Dunkin' and Starbucks cards I've received. A teacher with young children might enjoy a gift card to a movie theater or bookstore; if they're the creative type, a card to a craft store would be nice.

Personalized Wine Bottle

If you know a teacher with a good sense of humor (and let's face it, you need one to manage a classroom of kids), you could pick out a reasonably priced bottle of wine and add a decorative tag. It could either be a nice thank-you sentiment, or something like this downloadable teacher wine tag from Etsy: "My child might be the reason you drink — enjoy one on us!"

Hand Cream

As a preschool teacher, I help blow noses and clean tables with disinfectant all day long. That means a lot of hand-washing, which in turn means my hands often look like I ran them over a cheese grater. A tube or two of good-quality hand cream can help soften a teacher's busy hands, especially during the dry winter months.

Jarred Mixes

Putting together the dry ingredients for brownies, cookies, quick breads, or other treats serves a double purpose: It's a fun activity for you to do with your own child, and just as much fun for your teacher to make the goodies with their own kids over the holiday break.

Potted Plant

Bouquets of flowers are lovely, but a plant lasts longer and comes with its own container. Even better: Choose a low-maintenance variety that also purifies the air, such as a snake plant.

Insulated Water Bottle

All that lecturing in class can dry out the throat. A BPA-free water bottle will keep the teacher hydrated, and an insulated variety will keep the water cold even after last period.

Class Supplies

Many teachers dig into their own pockets to replace markers, pens, pencils, sticky notes, and other supplies that get used up over the school year. Give your teacher a hand by providing a fresh stash.


If your teacher is anything like me, they usually go around with mismatched gloves all winter long. A cozy pair will come in handy, particularly if the school has outdoor playtime during the winter.

Meditative Coloring Book

After a semester in the classroom, teachers are looking to de-stress over the holidays in any way they can. Give your child's instructor a zen-style coloring book and colored pencil set to help them unwind and regain focus.

Card Game

Another great choice, especially if your teacher has older children. There are lots of fun (and clean) card games in the style of Cards Against Humanity, which will make for plenty of family fun over the winter break and beyond.

Your Time

If you have any time during the school day to volunteer, offer your services. You could read aloud to the class, help pack take-home notices, make photocopies, declutter the classroom, or whatever will lighten the teacher's workload.

A Thank-You Note

Finally, a personal note of gratitude can be even more warming than a peppermint latte. The more specific you can be, the better: "Thanks to your encouragement, Emma loves reading now" or "Grayson always comes home talking about the fun experiments you do in science class." Knowing that they're making a difference in their students' lives is the greatest gift a teacher can receive.

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