teacher puns

Teacher Appreciation Gifts They Actually Want

By Jane Morris

One of the questions I get asked most often is what are the best teacher appreciation gifts? I prefer to answer in terms of gifts that we don’t want because it is much more interesting to share the awful things we’ve gotten. 

It seems obvious to me that cellulite cream is not a great gift idea for a teacher, but apparently, one family didn’t get the message. Instead of telling you about all of the ridiculous teacher gifts we get, I will give you some ideas for teacher gifts they actually want!

Thanks but No Thanks!

Before we get to what teacher appreciation gifts we actually want, I do think it’s necessary to go over what we definitely do not want. There are a number of gifts that teachers get most often and really don’t need anymore of. 

teacher mugs

Mugs, Tumblers, and Wine Glasses

Mugs are just way too plentiful as teacher gifts, and so are tumblers and even wine glasses. If you must gift a mug, try to pick something that isn’t just school themed but has something to do with what the teacher cares about outside of the classroom, like a certain dog breed or sports team. The best teacher appreciation gifts show that the student understands that we are real people and not just educational robots who only care about grammar, math, or lesson plans.

Painful Puns

For teacher gifts, try to stay away from anything with a cheesy pun, like a package of mints that says, “You were mint to be a teacher!” Those are just irritating, and assume we are all extremely cheesy. 

Teacher-themed stuff in general

No teacher-themed bags, keychains, or pouches. That tote that says, “It takes a big heart to teach small minds” is just so cute… to you. We have 50 of them already. A make-up bag with apples and school buses is a nice idea, but we don’t want to think about our profession 24/7, especially at 5 AM when we’re trying not to get mascara in our exhausted eyes. 

Ferrero Rocher, etc.

Big boxes of candy or cookies are nice, but most of it ends up deposited in the faculty lounge or shared with students because we stress eat just like everyone else, and we don’t need another 15 lbs. to carry around. And what’s with the abundance of Ferrero Rocher? They’re tasty, for sure, but why do teachers get this more than anything else? Is there some law written somewhere that says teachers go nuts over them?

ferrero rocher

Keep the Homemade Stuff for Your Family

In my opinion, and from what I’ve heard in the faculty lounge, a lot of teachers avoid homemade food.  Your kitchen may be the most sanitary place in the world, but we’ve learned the hard way not to trust anything homemade, so you’d be wasting your time. But I will include quotes from other teachers who have really enjoyed getting food from the families of their students. 

  • “I worked in a school with a high immigrant and refugee population. I loved when parents brought me food. Right before Christmas break, a mom brought me a huge pan of tamales. When I was pregnant, a mom brought me a bunch of Somali sambusas to ‘make my baby healthy and strong.’”
  • “I had a mom send in cupcakes for her son’s birthday one year, and since my birthday was the same day, she brought me my own special beautiful cupcake. It was so sweet of her to think of me.”
  • “We had a family who owned a bakery, and they always gave the teachers baked goods. Best. Gift. Ever! We all hoped and prayed that we would have their girls in our classes so we could get the baked goods.”
  • “A Korean mom made an authentic Korean lunch. Delicious. Another one made me a plate of sushi. A mom who bakes and sells cookies gave me a plate of them. I know there are plenty of schools where you wouldn’t want to eat homemade things, but I was super familiar with these families, so it wasn’t an issue!”

No Lotions or Candles Please

The self-care items are a nice thought, but there are too many variables as far as allergies and fragrance preferences. So forget the soaps, lotions, hand sanitizers, and candles. If you insist on that theme, how about a gift card to Bath and Body Works so we can choose the best gifts for ourselves?

So What Do Teachers Actually Want As A Gift? 

Though it pains me to say it, you might want to avoid a cash gift because some school districts have policies about not accepting those because they can be seen as bribes. Teachers are very different as individuals, so if you’re looking for a one size fits all kind of gift, then you definitely want to go with gift cards to places with tons of options, like a Target gift card or Walmart. Every teacher would appreciate that and find it to be a thoughtful gift.

Gift Cards! Yay!

One of the most common gift cards that teachers receive is to Starbucks, and although we appreciate it, not every teacher drinks coffee (though they must not be human or just doing coke, in my opinion). Consider a place that has cheaper options, like Dunkin’ Donuts or even a gas station. Personalized gifts are always better so consider creating your own gift card holder or find a printable gift card holder online.

Alcohol is Good in Theory

Yes, a lot of teachers drink alcohol to deal with the stress of the job. But to be honest, gifting alcohol, even if it’s a nice, classy wine bottle, is a bit awkward. If the teacher doesn’t drink, they will just regift it, and they’d probably prefer a Target gift card anyway. 

Genuine Notes and Letters

Believe it or not, most teachers consider the best teacher gifts to be a handwritten note from the student and/or parent that expresses why they appreciate us. I’ve gotten all kinds of gifts and probably 50 million packages of Rocher chocolates, but the card with a personal message is always the best part, and I save those forever. 

Drawings and Crafts

We love it when the student makes something (that isn’t edible) specifically for us for teacher appreciation. I have kept every drawing and craft that my students have given to me, and I continue to decorate my classroom with them. Some teachers love it when the kid makes a portrait of them, but be careful that the drawing or sculpture doesn’t accentuate any flaws that might be embarrassing.

teacher portrait

Most teachers have a good sense of humor, but the portrait includes the teacher announcing, “I eat too much!” that might not go over so well. One teacher cherishes a Lego person a student made that resembles her.

Draw something the teacher loves. Pay attention to what your teacher decorates their room with. If they have a lot of dog or cat stuff, they probably have some pets and would love a drawing of them. I still have every drawing my students made of my dogs.

Maybe the teacher loves a particular book, book character, celebrity, or historical figure. One teacher said, “I had a student draw me a picture of the Curtis brothers from The Outsiders. It is hung on my fridge!”

A math teacher enjoyed it when “Two students made me a little box (repurposed with colored tape) filled with math jokes.” Another teacher remarked, “One student made me a beautiful necklace with a tiny pressed flower in a glass frame, and it is truly my favorite piece of jewelry that I own.” 

And yet another teacher who cherishes a homemade item said, “I had an eighth-grade student who is extremely artistic but is slowly going blind. She is partially blind now and will be legally totally blind by the time she is 20. However, she creates the most beautiful sculpture art.

On the last day of school this year, she brought me a gift. She then sculpted a tree out of wire and mounted it on a piece of wood. She chose crystals in my favorite colors and laced them in as the leaves on the tree. In my 19 years of teaching, it is the prettiest, most heartfelt, and most thoughtful gift I ever received. I immediately took it home, and it’s in the center of our mantle over the hearth.”

Anything Related to the Teacher’s Outside Interests

Ask your kid what the teacher talks about the most other than school-related stuff. Is it a sports team? A pet? Travel? We appreciate it when you take the time to get us something related to an interest we’ve expressed before.

The few times I’ve been given a pair of socks or a figurine of my favorite dog breed, I have awkwardly screamed with joy. But a plain pair of socks would be a bit strange. So if you are going to get a mug, get one related to school supplies or something the teacher loves.

  • “I love my Star Wars heat-activated coffee mug for my morning tea.” 
  • “I had a student who made a life-sized cardboard cutout of my favorite actor. The body didn’t make it, but I still have the head by my teacher’s desk, and it will remain there until the end of time!”
  • “A group of students built me a bookshelf for my classroom library. Best gift ever.”
  • “This school year, for my birthday, I had a couple of students get me a gift bag full of my favorite snacks. It was beyond thoughtful, and I appreciated the effort they put into getting it together.”
  • “A Kindergarten student remembered that I had once said that flowers make me sneeze. He saw a small vase with wood flowers at a store and told his mom, ‘These wouldn’t make Ms. sneeze!’ I’ve had them in my desk for the past 20 years!”
  • “Last Christmas, I got a framed Superman Lego piece with a spiel how about I was Superman as a teacher. It sits on my mantelpiece next to pictures of my kids, that’s how much it means to me.”
  • “I got a customized Jean jacket with the Philadelphia Eagles logo, and the student tweeted at my all-time favorite player and got him to sign the jacket! Best gift I’ve ever gotten! So personal, so thoughtful, and so much ever went into it!”
  • “I have several homemade Christmas ornaments that I still hang on my tree every year.”
  • “My students know my favorite book is Pride and Prejudice, and one got me a leather-bound copy.”
  • “My students made me a poetry gumball machine one year! I’d just been to San Francisco and told them about a bookstore I’d been to that had one, and then they made me one that had classic poems and some poems of their own. I still have it on my desk, and it’s a great conversation starter with new students!”
  • Creative Ways Parents Have Shown Appreciation
  • “For teacher appreciation week, one family named a sandwich after me in their restaurant.”
  • “A student’s mom is an artist, and since we live in Miami, she would make every teacher a fish sculpture with their favorite colors as teacher gifts.”
  • “I mentioned that I had never been to a hockey game in class and a family gave me four tickets in the 4th row. It was an amazing experience and the best teacher appreciation gift I’ve ever gotten!”
  • “For teacher appreciation, I had a student and her mom rewrite the theme to Pokémon, but they made it all about first grade. They knew I loved Pokémon!”
  • “I once worked at a school where you had to bring your own paper to the copy machine, I think we got 2 or 3 reams from the elementary school. Had a parent gift me a case of copy paper every month. While school supplies are not necessarily what anyone wants as a gift, this was highly appreciated.”
  • “A whole class gave me a donation to a nonprofit that I volunteer at for teacher appreciation week.”
  • “Some parents got together and got me two tickets to my favorite band, Vampire Weekend.”
  • “I had four days gifted to me at the family’s summer home in the beautiful Lake Tahoe redwoods. The house was gorgeous, fully stocked and loaded, and a short drive to the lake. Sadly, years later, the home was destroyed in one of the CA fires that ravished the Tahoe mountains. My family and I still talk about our wonderful stay there.”

It’s Not About What You Spend 

Teachers are appreciative of any gifts they get, but we are most appreciative when we are treated with respect and appreciation. Here’s what one teacher said on the matter: “I come from a very poor Caribbean island where we used to have one day a year to celebrate our teachers. Families had little, and teachers, as usual, weren’t paid much either. Stores were depleted, so the black market was one’s only bet. I remember my family going through the new soap bars and other unused toiletries we had stashed to gift to teachers.

When I see these gifts now, I’m reminded of that reality. Many parents just can’t afford better than what they give us. I received a big, fancy gift basket from a parent who then proceeded to corner me with admin for no reason, while a family who had just arrived in the country gave me a tiny little chain from the dollar store but made me feel like I was a fairy godmother to their child. I regifted the basket as soon as I could, but the chain is still with me.”

So for Teacher Appreciation Week or the holidays, give your child’s favorite teacher a teacher appreciation gift they actually want by thinking of a personalized gift. The most thoughtful gifts are ones created by the student themselves that show they’ve been paying attention to who we are and how hard we work to inspire students.

If you liked this article, you should check out Worst Teacher Gifts from Administration.

If you have some thoughts on this, or anything else, check out the VENT section or submit a secret anonymously.

Jane Morris, Author

Bio picture for the author and founder of Teacher Misery, Jane Morris.Jane Morris is the pen name of a teacher who would really like to tell you more about herself but is afraid she’ll lose her job. Jane has taught English for over 15 years in a major American city. She received her B.A. in English and Secondary Education from a well-known university and her M.A. in writing from an even fancier (more expensive) university. As a professional queen of commiseration turned published author, Jane’s foremost passion in life is to make people laugh.

She has written several highly acclaimed books unpacking the reality of teaching and life inside the school system. You can view her full library of works here.

Attention! Some of the links present in this article may be affiliate links. This means that if you make a purchase through the link, we might generate a small commission (at no extra cost to you!). Additionally, as an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases made through the links. All of this revenue goes back into Teacher Misery and the mission of improving it and the lives of teachers everywhere. As always, thank you for all your support! :)))

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