I've never been a schoolteacher, but I've been a parent. I wish I'd known years ago what I know now about what gifts of thanks teachers really want. I would have skipped all the "Best Teacher in the World" coffee mugs and gone more for the classroom supplies.
Recently, I polled teachers I know. It took a little bit of arm-twisting because every one of them said they appreciate the thought behind every gift they receive, no matter how useless. I did get it out of them. I discovered what teachers really want. So, listen up, and take notes. There may be a quiz.
Make no mistake: Every teacher I spoke with stressed how very grateful teachers are for the thoughts behind all of the stuff they get during the year, the end of the year and the holidays between. But the stuff itself? Not so much. What would you do with 27 random coffee mugs or 16 bottles of aftershave?
Don't spend a lot on a teacher gift. Keep it reasonable. Parents who go overboard make teachers feel uneasy and awkward.
If you can't afford a gift, don't worry. Show your appreciation by volunteering in the classroom. Teachers don't generally keep score. But they do remember and appreciate classroom volunteers.
Check to see if your school displays teacher "wish lists." That can be very helpful.
If you have time, get a group of parents together to go in on a group gift card or special item for the classroom.
WHAT TEACHERS DON'T WANT
Knickknacks. I'm talking cute, goofy, endearing, musical, bric-a-brac, tchotchkes — anything meant to be displayed that collects dust.
Coffee mugs. Every teacher has received dozens already, and even if it is filled with hot chocolate mix or jelly beans — just, no.
Food. This is tricky, and not all teachers were as adamant as some I spoke with. Generally, most teachers don't want the temptation of so many sweets. They get plenty. Others were honest that homemade items leave them uneasy as to the contents, origin and preparation. Sadly, most will simply be tossed out.
Candles. If your teacher has been teaching for anytime at all, he or she has more candles than you can imagine — in every shape, color and scent. Cupboards full of candles.
Jewelry. Especially holiday-themed earrings, bracelets and so on. The teacher will feel obligated to wear it around the student just to be kind, but that's about it.
Lotions and potions. Again, a touchy subject. Lotions, creams, aftershave, cologne, perfume — it's all about personal preference, and unless you have some kind of inside track with the teacher's true desires and personal preferences, skip it.
WHAT TEACHERS REALLY?WANT
Gift cards. But not just any card. Amazon and Starbucks are the most desired, and in any amount. Your $5 Amazon or Starbucks card combined with cards from lots of students will be much appreciated and used. Also mentioned: Nordstrom, Macy's, Staples and Target.
Things for the classroom. Teachers often end up spending money out of their own pockets for supplies. They will be so happy if you help ease the load with a gift. Consider games, books, puzzles, stickers, markers, Post-it notes, dry-erase markers, a ream of copy paper, colored pencils, crayons and so on. It's not difficult to come up with a gift that matches the needs of the classroom.
Movie tickets. The teachers I talked to all agreed that they love having a stash of movie tickets. You can purchase tickets for local theaters at a tremendous discount at Costco — and they never expire.
Thank-you notes. A handwritten note from you and/or your child is something teachers really appreciate. And as you thank the teacher, be specific. Teachers love to know they are making a positive difference in how your child's future is being molded. A note can be a gift all on its own or a nice addition to any of the gifts above.
I know of one teacher who has kept every note and letter from kids and parents over a very long teaching career. He says this collection is one of his most treasured possessions and one that he goes back to and reads from often.
Would you like more information? Go to EverydayCheapskate.com for links and resources for recommended products and services in this column. Mary invites questions, comments and tips at EverydayCheapskate.com, "Ask Mary." This column will answer questions of general interest, but letters cannot be answered individually. Mary Hunt is the founder of EverydayCheapskate.com, a lifestyle blog, and the author of the book "Debt-Proof Living."
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