Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Christmas Gifts: What to Get for Teachers

Photo via amazon.com.

My oldest child is in preschool this year, and Christmas is approaching. Teachers everywhere will soon receive corny mugs filled with envelopes of hot chocolate. I’d prefer not to be that parent.

But what to give?

Should we give anything at all?

My husband is a high school teacher and gets homemade cookies or bread from maybe three or four students each Christmas. High school and middle school teachers generally don’t get the deluge of gifts that grade-school or preschool teachers receive.

However, my mother is a fifth-grade teacher at a private school, and she brings home armfuls of holiday gifts each year. Some are practical, some are tasty, and some are just clutter. A few years ago, she bought an inexpensive set of shelves to put in a corner of her classroom, and that’s where she displays many of her gifts from students. It’s loaded with ceramic apples and pencil-themed picture frames, but it contains only a portion of the gifts she’s received during her 13-or-so years teaching at that particular school. Other gifts are scattered around my parents’ home, while still others have gone the thrift store or garage sale route.

My mom does enjoy gift cards, but givers must be careful with these, too. Mom doesn’t drink coffee, but she often receives Starbucks cards, which she passes along to my coffee-drinking sister.

I recently read a post on holiday tipping and gift-giving on a financial blog I frequent. The writer had a laundry list of folks to buy for (the majority of commenters ridiculed the list’s excess), and among them were 14 middle school and high school teachers, plus four coaches/tutors. The plan was to get the teachers those standard mugs of hot chocolate.

More interesting than the original post were the comments, including dozens from teachers who insisted they do not want any more durned coffee mugs. Many asked, “What would I do if all 30 of my students gave me mugs?” 

Many teachers said they’d prefer no gifts at all. If a family really wants to give something, teachers suggest a nice handwritten note from the student. If money is spent, teachers say gift cards for Amazon, Target, or a teacher supply store can be useful. Some also suggest parents pool their money to buy a gift for the classroom. Teachers also admitted they can be squeamish about home-baked treats unless they know the family well, and I don’t blame them.

There’s also the question of whether it’s legal to give gifts to public school teachers. Massachusetts and Alabama have laws limiting what teachers can accept, to avoid concerns about bribery or favoritism. This Sacramento Bee article also outlines some of the rules and risks regarding teacher gifts.

It still leaves me wondering what, if anything, to give my daughter’s teacher. Her teacher has been an educator for nearly 30 years, and I’m sure she’s accumulated many student gifts during that time. What to get the teacher who has it all? I’m leaning toward a simple Christmas card with our family picture, and I might tuck a special drawing from my daughter inside the card.

Anything but a mug of hot chocolate.

You can contact Rachael by e-mailing her at Rachael@mumblingmommy.com.

While you’re here, you might be interested in these other posts:


  1. I appreciate this post. I admit to often doing the easy gift card route, but you have a good point on trying to predict taste (and how it is not easy). I can't imagine how many mugs a teacher collects over a 30-year career!!! I think I will approach the two teachers in our life this year and ask about a gift for the classroom instead.

  2. Jonathan's preschool has "wish lists" for all the teachers and administrators at the school. In a way it's a little tacky, but at the same time, it's a good way to avoid the mug-of-hot-chocolate route. Last year for Christmas I embroidered tea towels (very easy), but at the end of the year I gave them both restaurant gift cards that could be used at three or four different places (the group that owns Olive Garden and others.) They had both mentioned dining out on the wish list, and I think they liked that better than the tea towels!

  3. I am usually not a big proponent of gift cards, but I think this is a very appropriate time and place for them! Personal taste varies so widely. I am always looking for ways to have less clutter around my house, also - therefore I don't want to clutter the teacher's space, either. I think a giftcard to Target or similir is great because the teacher can choose to use it for themselves or their classroom. I love the idea of a restaurant GC also!

  4. Being a teacher, this post makes me laugh. This is my 8th year teaching and I just think about some of my past gifts (mugs, a huge (fake) diamond ring, a snow globe with a dead bug in it, and the list goes on...) If parents feel like they need to get something for a teacher I will say that I enjoy gifts for my classroom (supplies, books, games, etc.) I also enjoy getting $5 gift cards. Something simple.
    My son isn't old enough for school, but does attend daycare. And I do get his daycare person a gift and it's always a giftcard to a restaurant or place of shopping. Something easy and useful.

  5. Elizabeth: I love those Darden gift cards! Those are the ones that are good for both Red Lobster and Olive Garden. Who doesn't like those? :)

    Maddie: I'm anti-clutter, too. I'm usually putting items in our garage sale/donation pile while my husband is saying, "Do we need that?" A Target gift card sounds great, though.

    Kelli: A snow globe with a dead bug in it? Preschoolers are fantastic. :) Thanks for giving us some suggestions from a teacher!


All comments are moderated and we reserve the right to remove any SPAM or otherwise inappropriate content.

Copyright 2014 Mumbling Mommy - All Rights Reserved - Design by RL Web Designs