If you're like me, the same question plagues you every single December. You talk about it with your partner, with friends, with online strangers. You Google it. I'm speaking, of course, about what the hell to get your kid's teacher for the holidays. I'm on the record admitting I'm a totally crappy gift giver, so I figured it's best to go to the source. I recently reached out to educators to tell me what teachers want from their students for the holidays, because it's high time I got to the bottom of this.
Across the board, everyone told me that while gift are nice they are never necessary. So, really big caveat right up front: if you can't (or simply don't want to) buy gifts for whatever reason, no one is going to hold that against you (and certainly not against your kid). I mean... we all know teachers don't get into this gig for the over-the-top material rewards, right?
Another "across the board" sentiment was the idea that, above and beyond extravagant baubles, what really makes a heartwarming impression is showing that you recognize the extraordinary efforts educators put forth throughout the year. Let's be frank: we know how tough our one child can be, and a teacher manages, like, 20+ of them, so the effort is really and truly extraordinary. And they don't just manage them: they actually teach them how to do stuff. Like, during school hours, my child became a little human who can read and write and do math in his head. How cool is that?!
It's scary, sometimes, to hand over our children to the world, but damn if I don't feel better about it knowing what remarkable and dedicated people my kids' teachers are and have been. So at this time of reflection and love and, yes, gift giving, sending along a token of my appreciation feels like the least I can do for all they're doing for them.
Here are some of the things that can make an educator's holidays a little brighter (and some things that are best left of the shelf)...
"I do not want any more weird, icky Russian chocolates with suspect liquor in them. I always love me a Kohl's or Dunkin gift card. And please, no more inspirational wall plaques or frames ... I have opinions."
"I always loved getting handwritten notes from students, books for my classroom, and Target/Sonic/eating out gift cards. Starbucks is a little overdone — as in, I haven't paid for Starbucks in 10 years. And check and see if they have anything listed on Donors Choose — fund one of their classroom projects!"
"My favorite gift ever was a box of grocery store tea, and that's because the eighth grade boy who gave it to me noticed that I drank tea every day and took the initiative on his own to go out and get me that gift. It was one of the most thoughtful gifts I've ever received and almost fifteen years later still stands out to me."
"I teach high school (freshmen and juniors). Honestly all I want from my students is to enjoy their holiday. I know I can be tough on them and a lot is expected from them. I demand a lot. So I don't want gifts. I want them to bring their A-game in January."
"My favorite gift I received while teaching was a blue votive glass and votive. It was not my taste at all, but my student was so proud that she picked it out herself from the Dollar Tree. I know the family was not well off financially, so it really meant a lot that they gave a gift. Ten years later, I still have it. Homemade baked goods given as gifts did not get eaten because I don't trust everyone to have a clean kitchen. Awful, I know."
"I have been teacher for 20 years. My favorite gifts are always a frame with a picture of me and my student. And school supplies — sharpies, markers —I spend a lot of pocket so it's nice to get some back! Every ornament that my kids have made, I still have as well: ornaments from 1999!"
"Hand-written notes and things that the kids picked out. I have a dollar store mug with a chip in it that I’ve treasured for years because it was obvious the student picked it out herself and was excited to give it to me."
"The best gift I ever got was red wine and chocolate! But what really touches me is when kids write cards, I've gotten the sweetest and most gratifying cards from my students. They are nice to look back in in moments of self-doubt. I don't really like getting jewelry, since I don't really switch up my jewelry too often, I tend to just wear the same pieces."
"I do early childhood special ed, so I work with littles. One mom took a sweet drawing her daughter had done and had it printed on some blank greeting cards. Also, Target gift cards. Can’t go wrong."
"I love gift cards big or small. I had a student’s mom who explained that she liked to give little luxuries that she knew teachers wouldn’t (necessarily) buy themselves. Her luxury of choice (that year) was a gift card to a specialty sneaker store in town. When I had her second son it was a gift card to a nearby spa. She’s not the norm nor what I expected from everyone, but it certainly made me feel appreciated. I loved anything that showed the students/families cared. It made me really smile when it was something the student themselves noticed I liked (like the student that brought me a six-pack of Diet Coke or the poodle Christmas ornament I still hang on my tree). Things I don’t like are scented things like lotions/candles because it’s really rare that I get a scent that I actually like. So I feel wasteful when I give them away (or I torture my house guests with them by putting them in the guest bathroom). I also do not need any more mugs for the remainder of my life."
"I love the thoughtful cards most of all, honestly. And something the kids made for me themselves is always really special. Or a gift to a charity they think I'd like. I'm set for eternity on mugs. But more than anything: Kleenex! The school doesn't provide them and the kids go through them a mile a minute this time of year!"
"Gift cards, office supplies like Sharpie pens and Post-its, and thoughtful, handwritten notes from students."
"A nice, thoughtful note is really special. One year, I was gifted really nice personalized stationary which was amazing and I still use it. Amazon gift cards are also a favorite. My son’s school does a Christmas fund. Parents donate money and it’s split evenly between all the faculty and staff, the crossing guard, cafeteria staff, everyone but administrators. You can give as much as you like and no one sees what you contribute only that you gave something. It’s so great from a parent who is a teacher POV."
"I really like when they give me stuff that shows they pay attention. I’ve had loads of coffee and nail polish and Doctor Who things from kids that know me. Wine from those with a good sense of humor and that get me. I also like 'Worlds best teacher' paraphernalia (mugs, stationary, etc). No one buys that stuff anymore because they think we have it but we really don’t because no one buys it for us!"
"After teaching for 13 years I have enough knick-knacks, candles (though I do like the Yankee Candle and Bath and Bodyworks ones) lotions, best teacher signs, and mugs to open my own teacher gift shop. While all gifts are appreciated and completely unnecessary, I agree with a thoughtful note- the ones from the kids are great but the ones from parents and kids together are even better. Also, gift cards are always nice!"
"I don’t really receive gifts from students, but once in a while I will get something that looks like this. (Zoom in on the feet.) But I proudly displayed it this week because the little girl was so excited to just be able to give me something. I did receive a couple pairs of fuzzy socks years ago that I still love. I think the best gift for me is when a parent takes time to actually write me a note or write in a card to let me know I’m appreciated."
"A student once wrote a book starring me, complete with illustrations, and I treasure it. It's probably the best present anyone has ever gotten me, not just a student."
"I work in special ed and so have many of the same students year after year. For the past few years, one family has given me a gift certificate to a local sandwich shop, so it's like they're treating me to lunch and it's become a really nice tradition. Also, the sandwiches are delish."
"Handwritten letters/notes/cards, student-made art, sharing lunch together of homemade food from their native countries are all nice. I actively do not want anything that has monetary value."
After experiencing a traumatic c-section, this mother sought out a doula to support her through her second child’s delivery. Watch as that doula helps this mom reclaim the birth she felt robbed of with her first child, in Episode Three of Romper's Doula Diaries, Season Two, below. Visit Bustle Digital Group's YouTube page for more episodes, launching Mondays in December.