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Teacher Appreciation Gifts and Ideas: The Best, The Worst, The Meaningful

Teacher Appreciation Gifts and Ideas: The Best, The Worst, The Meaningful


I get asked a lot about teacher appreciation gifts. Usually, the question is something along the lines of “What are the best gifts for teachers?”

Now, while I have a lot of thoughts there, I much prefer to answer in terms of gifts that we teachers DON’T want. Over the years colleagues and I have been gifted some truly shocking stinkers. I think it’s 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.)

Conversely, teaching supplies might seem like a terrific present to show your appreciation but just think about that for a second. That’s a bit like buying the postman an envelope or a stay-at-home mom a new broom.

It’s hardly showing your gratitude

So let’s dive into the teacher gift ideas that do and don’t suck! We’ll shame some stinkers and give you some recommendations for what you SHOULD buy a teacher.

Here are the actual BEST teacher appreciation gifts you can splash some cash on, straight from the educator’s mouth!

A teacher opening her appreciation gift of new classroom supplies with disappointment.
There might not be a right and wrong, but there is definitely a better or worse.

But First, The WORST Teacher Appreciation Gift Ideas

Look, they might say it’s the thought that counts… But when you’re trying to show appreciation for the teacher in your life with a meaningful gift, there are some dos and don’ts to follow.

An image of some of the gifts for sale in the Teacher Misery Merch Store.

I imagine you’d rather not end up on the list of the worst teacher gifts ever!

However, while we pick through the bad teacher gifts, I’ll give you some alternative suggestions for top-notch gift ideas… Straight from the Teacher Misery Merch Shop!

That’s right, Teacher Misery has a merch store – a place where you can buy a teacher a funny gift that says you truly understand and validate their misery. Every goodie in the store is purposefully designed by the Teacher Misery elves to reflect the teaching experience in its fullness.

Skip the hassle.
Skip the shopping trip.
Buy something BY teachers FOR teachers that ONLY teachers will adore.

But for now, onward!

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. Starting with the #1 gift that teachers get and definitely don’t need any more of…

Mugs, Tumblers, and Wine Glasses

Mugs are just way too plentiful as teacher gifts, and so are tumblers and even wine glasses. Like, yes, haha, we get it: our teaching jobs are so stressful that we consume coffee and wine like camels to stock up our reservoirs for the suffering to come.

But, please, no more teacher appreciation cups.

If you must gift a teacher a mug, try to pick something that isn’t just school-themed but has something to do with what they care about outside of the classroom, like a certain dog breed or sports team. Just, please, not another inspirational quote about the value of teachers without any follow-through (like increasing our damn pay!).

A pile of unwanted teacher appreciation gifts: mugs and coffee cups.
Alfred Hitchcock’s lesser-known sleeper hit, “The Mugs”.

The best teacher appreciation gifts show that the student understands that we are real people too. We’re not just educational robots who only care about grammar, math, or lesson plans! We’re people first and what we appreciate most is knowing that we’re known.

Still determined to buy that mug?

Then AT LEAST get one that speaks to teachers nationwide!

Painful Puns

Simple teacher appreciation gifts are great! Puns are not.

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, purrrr-lease. That tote that says, “It takes a big heart to teach small minds” is just so cute… to you. However, 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.

There ain’t no tired like teacher tired. Maybe a better appreciation gift for the teacher in your life would just be a pair of glasses with fake eyes on them so they can catch some extra Zs on the job. ;)

Spice it up! Puns and teacher-themed totes are out…

…but vaguely depressing observations about the state of the industry are soooooooo in.

Ferrero Rocher, etc.

Big boxes of candy or cookies are nice, but most of them admittedly end up deposited in the faculty lounge or shared with students. We stress eat just like everyone else, and we don’t need another 15 lbs. to carry around!

Ideas for teacher gifts are great! But teacher appreciation food… not so much.

And what’s with the abundance of Ferrero Rocher anyway? They’re tasty, for sure, but why do teachers get this more than anything else?

Rows of Ferrero Rocher chocolates, a teacher appreciation gift that's usually given away.
…and miles and days and days.

Is there some law written somewhere that says teachers go nuts over Ferrero Rocher?

NUTS. Geddit? I never said the teachers couldn’t dish out the puns and funny jokes.

Keep the Homemade Stuff for Your Family

Speaking of giving teachers food as a gift of appreciation… With absolute zero disrespect, we do not want anything homemade.

Personally, I (and many other teachers from what I’ve heard in the faculty lounge) avoid homemade food. Your kitchen might be the most sanitary place in the world, but we’ve learned the hard way not to trust anything homemade. You’re likely just wasting your time.

But that’s not everyone. Some teachers love receiving homemade food as thank you gifts! Down below you can read some quotes from other teachers who have really enjoyed getting food from the families of their students.

Some homemade sashimi - a risky teacher gift with high potential of food poisoning.
First stop: Food Poisoning Town.
  • “I worked in a school with a high immigrant and refugee population. I loved it 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 definitely a nice thought as far as teacher appreciation gifts go. But there are simply too many variables as far as fragrance allergies and preferences go.

So forget the soaps, lotions, hand sanitizers, and candles. If you insist on that theme, how about a gift card to Bath & Body Works so we can choose the best gifts for ourselves?

Who needs smelly biz anyway? Y’know what you can’t go wrong with?

STICKERS!!! Seriously, everybody loves stickers.

Now for the BEST Teacher Appreciation Gifts

Though it pains me to say it, you might want to avoid gifting cash to teachers. Some school districts have policies about not accepting those because they can be seen as bribes.

Don’t get me wrong. I think gifting a teacher a few extra dollaridoos to show your gratitude is a super idea! Nothing says “Hey I know your teaching salary is shocking but I appreciate you” like some cash to offset the crushing weight of the cost of living crisis.

But getting them accidentally fired? Naaaaa – you don’t want that. Instead, gift them something that is still basically a bribe but not…

Gift Cards! Yay!

Buy a designer watch to dodge taxes. Buy a gift card to dodge “No Bribe” policies!

A fist-pumping teacher receiving a gift card as an appreciation gift with cheering children around him.
Yay, loopholes!

Teachers are very different as individuals, so if you’re looking for a one-size-fits-all gift idea, then you definitely want to go with gift cards. Choose 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.

One of the most common gift cards that teachers receive is for Starbucks. Although we appreciate it, not every teacher drinks coffee (though they must just be an alien or doing coke then, 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

Although it wouldn’t be my first piece of advice for struggling teachers, yes, the truth is that 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 probably would have preferred a Target gift card anyway.

And if they’re a recovering alcoholic… Well… Ooh boy. That’s an interesting conversation!

Genuine Notes and Letters

Believe it or not, most faculty would consider the best gift for a teacher to be a handwritten note from the student and/or parent that expresses their appreciation. And, SPECIFICALLY, why they appreciate us.

An appreciation letter to a teacher in a brown envelope reading "Thank You".
Validation is really the BEST teacher appreciation gift anyone can ask for.

I’ve gotten all kinds of gifts and probably 50 million packs of Ferrero Rocher chocolates. But the card with a personal message is always the best part. That’s the kind of appreciation gift a teacher holds on to forever.

In the constant stress of teaching and rampant toxic positivity, it can be real hard to “Remember Our Why” sometimes. We appreciate it the most when you remind us why we keep doing it.

Drawings and Crafts

We love it when the student makes something (that isn’t edible) specifically for us. 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. Most teachers have a good sense of humor, but a portrait with enormous ears or a bulging gut might not go over so well.

A portrait a student drew of their teacher as a gift with a huge, bulging stomach.
Yes, Billy, you did…

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, some dating back to my first year of teaching.

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!” Another teacher cherishes a Lego person a student made that resembles her.

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.”

But as for my favorite idea (and possibly the most unique teacher appreciation gift I’ve heard of), we have this absolute gem:

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. THOSE acts of knowing us as more than a lesson-loaded teaching jukebox are the best appreciation gifts.

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. However, a plain pair of socks would be a bit strange, and plain old teacher clothes are a big fat no. 

If you are going to get a mug or socks or a cute lil’ keychain, get one related to something the teacher loves! Here are some favorites directly from the mouths of educators.

Best Appreciation Gifts Received By Teachers

A Lego Batman and Superman eating ice-cream together.
Wholesome af.
  • “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

A very delicious sandwich sitting on a small wooden chopping board.
“The Ms. Boss B****h”
  • “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 two or three reams from the elementary school. I had a parent gift me a case of copy paper every month. While teaching 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.”

One last recommendation!

The best-selling Teacher Misery book is THE gift to buy burnt-out teachers tired of the profession’s BS.

Featuring everything from hilarious anecdotes, mind-bending horror stories, and the dirtiest secrets of the industry that the administration and policy-makers don’t want you to know.

Maybe the best gift of appreciation you can give that teacher in your life is a little nudge towards finally quitting the misery. ;)

Teacher Gifts: It’s Not About What You Spend

Teachers are appreciative of any gifts they get. But really, we’re 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 gift they actually want. Think of a personalized gift. The most thoughtful gifts are created by the students themselves.

They show they’ve been paying attention to who we are and how hard we work to inspire students. They show that we’re known, seen, and appreciated.

And at the end of the day, that’s the best appreciation gift a teacher can ask for.

A note reading "Teacher Appreciation Week" with 'week' crossed out and "YEAR!!!" written instead.
Normalize year-round appreciation. Gestures of appreciation are an anytime thing.

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! :)))

Jane Morris

Jane Morris is the pen name of an ex-teacher who would really like to tell you more about herself but is worried awful administrators will come after her for spilling their dirty little secrets. 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 and Literature from an even fancier (and more expensive) university. As a professional queen of commiseration turned published author, Jane’s foremost passion in life is to make people laugh through the tears.

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.