Teachers work so hard and take care of the most important thing in your life – your kids. You want to show your gratitude during Teacher Appreciation Week and thank them properly at the end of the school year. But how?
Lots of people have food allergies and smell sensitivities, so treats and scented lotion or candles are generally out. Giving cash can seem a little bit… crass (but more on that in a minute). If your kid is a handful, maybe a case of wine is in order, but is it appropriate?
We reached out to a whole bunch of teachers in this highly unscientific, completely subjective survey to find out what teachers really want. Names are withheld so you know this is serious investigative journalism (and to protect from hurt feelings). Here’s what we found:
The most appreciated gift
Let’s get real. Teachers are massively underpaid, especially day-care workers (ironic, but true, considering that you basically fork over another mortgage payment for tuition). Lots of teachers have their own young families to provide for. Gift cards will get used.
Unanimous top choice: Amazon and Target gift cards. “Between being a new mom and being a new teacher, I was busy,” says one middle-school teacher. “It was much easier to press a button and have the things I needed delivered to my door than to go shopping for them.”
Other teacher favorites: Trader Joe’s gift cards are super practical. Treat your teacher to a University Village gift card — it’s good for any store there.
Not sure where to get a gift card? Cold hard cash is the “gift card” accepted anywhere. Now, about the amount. Teachers say $5 and a nice note is wonderful. If you want to be really generous, $25. The consensus: They are grateful for any amount.
“The fact that parents and kids even think to get us something is amazing,” says one teacher. “I know I speak for most teachers when I say that we don’t expect gifts, so anything that comes our way is very much appreciated. It’s corny, I know, but it really is the thought that counts.”
A group gift
Let’s say you have multiple kids, maybe a preschooler and another in elementary school. That’s two preschool teachers, a classroom teacher and half a dozen specialists whom you adore and want to thank. A $20 Target card apiece adds up fast.
Instead, try banding together with other parents and coming up with a group gift for the teachers. Parents can chip in whatever they’re comfortable with, whether it’s $5 or $20, and no one needs to know what your financial situation is. Joining forces lets you give the teachers one generous gift.
A gift that's personal
Find out what the teacher likes. Tried-and-true ideas: a big Swansons Nursery gift card for an avid gardener; or Buy Buy Baby for a new parent. Or give them an experience, a fun activity they can do with their families. Consider a factory tour at Theo Chocolate, movie tickets, ski passes, restaurant gift cards, museum passes, baseball tickets or a trip up the Space Needle.
A homemade treat?
It really depends on the teacher.
“Personally, I really like homemade treats,” says one teacher. “I have a major sweet tooth, and my students know about it.”
Some teachers always like getting nicely wrapped candy. For others, no sweet treats, please. It’s a go-to for many families, and teachers can only eat so many desserts. A veteran teacher might discreetly dump your treats in the trash. Can’t blame them: They share that petri dish of a classroom with the kids every day. I might be suspicious, too.
So many people have allergies and diet restrictions that bringing food is a dicey choice. If you’re adamant about your famous Ghirardelli brownies, just know that your work may be happily devoured — or wind up being given away.
Hold the tchotchkes
Longtime teachers get more coffee mugs and stuffed animals than they know what to do with. A lot of it gets re-gifted or goes straight to Goodwill.
But sometimes those little tokens are unexpectedly sweet. One teacher is known for her love of penguins, and her kids would bring her penguin things. Another teacher remembers the time when a group of kids went camping and brought back a little hedgehog souvenir for her.
Here are some additional ideas for presents, vetted by actual teachers:
- Have the kids make a gift. Preschoolers can finger-paint on poster board, elementary school kids can write their own cards. Teachers love that the kids were thinking about them.
- Decorate a clay pot, add a succulent and a note: “Thanks for helping me grow.”
- Teachers get a ton of lotion, so if you’re going that route, make sure it’s the unscented, healing kind. (Day-care teachers wash their hands a lot.)
- Any supplies you know teachers are paying out of pocket for. That could be craft stuff, copy paper, Clorox wipes, Kleenex, etc.
- Lottery scratch tickets! Gotta play to win.
The best gift of all
A sweet, heartfelt card. “I hold on to each and every one of those — in fact, I have one on my fridge from four years ago,” says one teacher.
A handwritten note means the world to every classroom teacher. It’s more valuable than any trinket, maybe even better than a gift card. One teacher keeps all her cards in a special box, another tapes them inside a closet door to look at when she’s having a tough day. Teachers who work at upper grades or teach specials rarely get anything from a kid or a family. A card is a simple way to show you appreciate the person helping raise and educate your child.
“Honestly, it's those small touches that make you feel appreciated for all your hard work,” says one teacher.
“My best gift was the day a student said to me on his way out the door, ‘That was fun, Ms. Chen. I can't wait to see what we're doing tomorrow.’”
Editor’s note: This article was originally published in March 2019, and updated in April 2022.