Currently I spend my days chasing two little rascals down, trying to manage my family and household, and blogging and making jewelry during naptime, but in my pre-kid life I spent my days teaching in an elementary school classroom. I have taught third and fourth grade, but third was my favorite. They are old enough to take care of themselves, but young enough to think puppets (and their teacher) are cool.
My sisters are also teachers. Neither of our parents were, but somehow we were all bitten with the education bug. My sister Rachel taught high school English for five years prior to adopting a baby, and my sister Laura is currently a high school chemistry teacher. Here is a picture of us as little girls and on my wedding day together. Aren’t they darling? I love them. Especially in that little kid leotard picture. Heehee.
I have been seeing a lot of teacher gifts in the way of craft ideas and tutorials on blogs lately. Here’s the thing: I am a former elementary teacher and a major color junkie, so I will be honest with you . . . the sight of a perfect crayon frame or wreath does indeed make my heart beat a little bit faster. However, I don’t really need any more them. At Christmas, during Teacher Appreciation Week, and the end of the school year teachers are showered with mugs, lotions, knick knacks, frames, and cutesy projects galore. What is a teacher to do with all of these things?
Now don’t get me wrong: they truly appreciate your generosity in thinking of them and giving them a gift. It touches a teacher’s heart to feel appreciated. It is a very emotional, woefully underpaid, and very time consuming job. (If you think it’s all early hours and summers you clearly have never had to plan wonderful lessons, coordinate field trips, put up bulletin boards, keep administrators happy, go to staff development meetings, worry about your individual students’ needs, grade piles of papers, and communicate with dozens of parents!) Teachers truly love to feel appreciated. But a person can only use so many frames and mugs, and of the three of us sisters two of us are very allergic to smelly lotions and have to just pass them on when they are given to us as gifts. And that is why I am here today to tell you the five gifts that your child’s teacher REALLY wants to receive. They are not complex and they are not expensive. So read on!
I made a list of the top five types of gifts I loved to receive as a teacher, and then I asked my sisters to make a list without telling them what mine was. They both made the SAME list IN THE SAME ORDER! We could chalk that up to similar DNA, but I truly feel that it is a accurate representation of what the majority of teachers would love to receive as gifts, and that is why I am sharing them with you now. I will start at number five and count down to number one, Letterman style.
(I am going to be using “she” to refer to the teachers. Not because there aren’t male teachers, just because we three happen to be female. Male teachers rock and there are far too few of them!)
#5: Delicious goodies!
Who doesn’t love a treat?! So unless you know your kid’s teacher is on a diet or has health issues that require them to limit sugar, then go for the goodies! However, make them gooood. I am a junk food junkie (my mom’s title for me), so I ate the junk candy that came in as well as the good stuff, but my favorite treat was when I got a big box of hand dipped caramels from a local candy shop. Mmmmmm…….
Non-perishable is always a good option. Local candy shops, gourmet chocolate, goodies from a place like Trader Joe’s, or my favorite new obsession, Coldstone Chocolate Bars, are all great options. My sister got so much perishable, homemade food one year that she had to have a bunch of friends come over just so it wouldn’t go bad!
If you are dying to make your child’s teacher a beautiful cupcake, then make one big, beautiful cupcake for her in a small box. Because, unless she has a big family at home, how is she going to get through a dozen? Or here’s an idea: THE TEACHER’S LOUNGE! Make a big old platter of cookies and leave them in the teacher’s lounge. There is nothing better than walking into the lounge to grab a soda during an all-too-short break and finding homemade baked goods up for grabs. Oh, sweet manna from Heaven.
I am passionate about treats. Just in case you couldn’t tell…. 😉
#4: Something really great for the classroom . . . or HELP!
I am a children’s lit junkie, so a great gift for my classroom would have been a great new children’s book to read to the class and add to my classroom library. One year my sister Laura got a beautiful coffee table book about the elements of the periodic table from a student and she is obsessed with it. (Geek.) My sister Rachel’s favorite book to teach is To Kill a Mockingbird. A beautiful edition of that would be treasured by her for years to come. Or, as far as elementary teachers goes, something like The Magic School Bus videos to enhance science lessons. Be creative!
Or, better yet, HELP! Teachers love help. At the end of the year a high school student could stay after with a friend one day and help their teacher clean up and organize so that she too can get started on summer. Or the parent of an elementary student could volunteer in the classroom!
Would you believe that I never had a room mother? I only worked at Title I schools, so never once was a parent able to come in to help me with a class party or anything else. I had to BEG for field trip chaperones. They were all working like crazy just to support their families, which is obviously a much higher priority than going on a field trip or planning a school party. It was very stressful trying to plan all of the extra things like class parties and events all by myself on top of all of my regular teaching duties. I did my best to make it fun, but I remember the parties my mom used to throw as a PTA member when I was growing up. My parties were nothing like that.
So, if you can, get in the classroom and help! It’s not realistic or even possible for every family, and that’s obviously ok, but if you do have the opportunity to get into the classroom at some point during the school year, then I would encourage you to do so! The teacher will be so very grateful to you, and, most importantly, your child will know just how much you value their education and support the teachers at their school! My son loves it when I show up in his classroom!
#3: A gift directly from your child.
There is one student gift to me that I still see daily. It is a tiny stuffed donkey. It has come apart and undergone hand-stitching surgery many times. Incredibly random, right? Yes. INCREDIBLY random. But one of my students saw it at Walmart and decided to save her money and buy it as a gift for myself and my stuffed llamas that I used as puppets in my classroom to teach lessons and generally bring silliness to the classroom. When she gave it to me she was bursting with excitement. She made me name him on the spot and create a character and a voice for him. Years later, my son is now amused by this little donkey’s “personality” and sleeps with him at night.
Then there was the time that a little girl living in the most horrible of poverty brought me a six pack of miniature Dr. Pepper cans for my birthday. She had not only made a mental note that my birthday was coming, but she had also been watching me and noticing the soda on my desk each day after lunch. Then she begged her mom and they no doubt made a sacrifice in their grocery budget to get me some DP for my birthday. I was incredibly touched.
This works with high schoolers too! My sister Laura teaches chemistry in California to many troubled teens. One boy in particular caught her eye at the start of the school year, and she made a special effort to help him pass and to fuss over him and make him feel special. She knew he was withdrawn, not into school, and involved in gang activity. But she loved him as he was and set out to try to help him love himself and maybe learn a bit of chemistry along the way as well. On the last day of school he walked up to her and silently handed her a bag with her favorite treat in it: a single Subway cookie. And then he gave her a hug. She wept when she called to tell me about it. It meant so much to her.
What parent ever would have picked out a poorly made small stuffed donkey as a teacher’s gift? Or a miniature six pack of Dr. Pepper? Or a single Subway cookie? None. But each gift is etched into our memories years later, and each was so meaningful to us because it spoke volumes to us about how much our students cared about us personally!
#2: GIFT CARDS!
This is the purely material suggestion. You guys, teachers are woefully underpaid. It’s ridiculous. The first year I was teaching my family would have qualified for the free lunches my students were getting. Yeah. So if you want to buy your child’s teacher something then spoil them with a gift card!
The gift card does NOT have to be in a large amount! Once Rachel got a $5 gift card to Coldstone. She was thrilled! It came on a long and exhausting day, and she stopped at Coldstone on her way home and got herself a much-deserved treat! If you are going to make a craft for them you will be spending at least $5 – $10 anyway. Put it into a gift card instead and let them treat themselves to exactly what they want!
If you want to give them something that could be used for themselves or the classroom I would suggest Amazon, Target, or Barnes & Noble. If you wanted to get them smelly lotions or soap for pampering purposes then just give them a $10 Bath & Body gift card instead so they can choose their favorite scent. Or how about an iTunes or Starbucks gift card? We don’t drink coffee, but most teachers do, and we are obsessed with vanilla steamed milks, so Starbucks worked for us, too! If you have the ability to be more monetarily generous then consider a gift card to a restaurant or movie theater. I bet they don’t get to go on very many nice dates with their husbands!
Gift cards are the ultimate gift if you are looking to spend any money at all. Give your kid’s teacher a chance to take themselves on a mini shopping spree, even if it is only worth $5! And, hey, if you want to also do something cutesy then I have your answer: I rounded up a collection of 19 Teacher Appreciation Gift Card Holder Printables. Quick and cute!
#1: A heartfelt letter.
The best thing that you can give to a teacher is a heartfelt letter thanking them for the help that they have given your child. Use specific examples of the positive growth and changes that you have seen in your child. I recall at the end of one year getting a letter from a particular student’s mother. This particular student suffered from Bipolar Disorder and severe ADHD. He was definitely a challenge to have in class. But somehow he and I found a rhythm and rapport that worked for us. The year prior to being in my classroom he had been sent to the office at least 4 times a week. I sent him three times in an entire year. I dealt with him myself, communicated with his mother regularly, and learned great lessons in patience and temper control. The letter that she wrote to me about how much they loved me and how much growth they had seen in him at home and in school made my soul soar. I have never been so touched or so grateful for the opportunity that I was given as a teacher to touch a child’s life. Don’t read too much into this: I was no perfect teacher. Not even close. But I was the perfect teacher for that ONE child at that one time. And I am so grateful to his mother for taking the time to let me know why.
My sisters also received some meaningful letters over the years, and Rachel’s favorites were from students directly. (More feasible in high school classrooms than in elementary classrooms.) The two that stand out to her were not long letters from eloquent students. They were simple and sweet, and they touched her deeply.
Her first year of teaching she worked really hard with a boy who was struggling with clinical depression and who hardly spoke more than 5 words to her at a time. At the end of the year, he gave her a pre-printed teacher bookmark that said something like, “Teachers make such a special difference in the lives of their students, and you are the most special teacher of all.” On the back, he wrote six words: “I really mean it. Love, Johnny.” (Name has been changed for the student’s protection.) Coming from that student, such a simple sentiment brought tears to her eyes.
A few years later, she got a little thank-you note from a student with Aspergers Stydnrome. He began the note with a few sentences that were pretty typical, “Thanks for being a great teacher,”etc., but he ended the note with a sentence she has never forgotten: “Thank you for seeing in me what so many others have not seen.” She put that note on her desk and looked at it often when she was feeling discouraged and overwhelmed as a teacher.
Over the years I have misplaced and lost track of the majority of even the cutest handmade and store bought gifts that my students gave to me, but that letter from my student’s mother? It is safely tucked away and I will keep it literally until the day that I die. It reminds me that I made a real difference in a child’s life, which is the reason that I started teaching in the first place.
Teachers rock. They work so hard and are often not fully appreciated for all that they do during and after school hours. Show them some love and let them know how much they have meant to your child! Now that I am a parent myself I realize more than ever that a great teacher is worth his or her weight in gold!
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