Every holiday season, students and parents wrap up well-meaning gifts for their favorite teachers. However, they might not be giving their educators what they truly want or need.
GOBankingRates.com talked to educators from all over the country — and from all levels of schooling — to find the best gifts for teachers. Click through to see some of the best gift ideas on a budget.
1. Hand-Written Note
Hand-written thank you notes are thoughtful gifts — and you can find beautiful card packs online for as low as $5.99. Not only is this gift inexpensive, but it's also a thoughtful way to show your appreciation.
“The things that always meant the most to me were simple notes of thanks or little handmade things,” said high school teacher Jeremy Brown. “The notes are truly the most wonderful.”
2. Email to the Administrator
Former teacher Jodie Rodriguez agrees that hand-written notes are among the best gifts for teachers. However, parents can take this idea a step further by writing to the boss or school superintendent.
“As a former classroom teacher for seven years, the most memorable and treasured gifts were hand-written thank you notes from parents," she said. "I still have a file that I take out now and then to re-read. Bonus points if another note is written to the administrator about how wonderful the teacher has been in their child's life.”
It's no secret that a teacher sometimes needs to unwind after a hard day. If you want to help your favorite educator kick back, consider wine and other alcoholic beverages.
Make the gift more personal by including a cute or amusing teacher-themed wine glass. Etsy has options starting for as low as $10.
4. Homemade Craft
“I love when my students make the gifts,” said middle school teacher Maddy Hanington. “The best gifts ever were a crayon wreath and my initials made out of colored pencils.”
5. Homemade Ornament
An ornament is a gift your child's teacher can treasure forever and revisit every year during the holidays.
“Handmade ornaments are always my favorite,” said teacher Katie Donovan. “I actually decorate an entire miniature Christmas tree with them every year!”
Elementary school teacher Nicole Berry also appreciates the personal touches.
“I like getting Christmas ornaments because my tree is still developing," she said. "And I like when families give me their actual family Christmas cards, too — they’re fun to see."
6. Photo Book
In addition to thank you notes and school supplies, a photo book made by one of her students is among educator Cat Trimble's most-treasured gifts.
Walmart has a variety of options for printed photo books, starting at just $8. Include shots of the kids in class or on field trips, or pictures of the teacher and students enjoying activities together.
7. Coffee Gift Card
Early days and packed schedules mean that many teachers rely on regular cups of joe to make it through. Support your favorite teacher’s caffeine habit with a gift card to a coffee shop near school, such as Dunkin' Donuts, Starbucks, Caribou or even McDonald's.
“I think small gift cards are the best," said teacher Michelle Kulick Kraus. "I get an iced coffee every morning and would love those gift cards."
8. Coffee Mug
If a gift card to a coffee shop seems impersonal, spend about $10 to $20 more and complement the present with an attractive mug. Larissa Nonni, a former elementary school teacher, said this practical but thoughtful gift was always her favorite around the holidays.
“I loved getting a coffee mug with a design that they knew would warm my heart, such as a mug with my initials or a picture of my student and me during a field trip,” she said.
9. Gift That Gives Back
Does your teacher have a passion for charity? Consider giving your teacher a gift that gives back this holiday season. Make a charitable donation in your teacher's name, and check out sites like GlobalGiving.org and WorldVision.org.
10. Spa or Mani/Pedi Gift Card
Teachers deserve to treat themselves every now and then, and gift cards to local spas and salons allow them to do just that. Find a spa or nail salon near school, so your favorite teacher can book an appointment and head over when the school day ends. Find out how much a mani or pedi costs, so you can buy a gift card that will cover at least one service.
11. Restaurant Gift Card
Educator Anita Perry counts gift cards to fancy restaurants among her favorite presents. Remember that teachers — especially new ones — rarely rake in the dough. According to the National Education Association, the average starting teacher salary for 2012 was $36,141.
Research the best restaurants in your area, and give your favorite teachers gift cards to them so they can treat themselves to a decadent meal. For bonus points, purchase a gift card with enough money on it that your teacher can enjoy a night out with a spouse, significant other or friend.
12. Book or Bookstore Gift Card
No, teachers don’t get tired of reading. In fact, high school math instructor Matt Schneider said books and Barnes & Noble gift cards are among his favorite presents each year.
You can even get a gift card to Amazon.com, so your teacher can purchase hard copies of books or the Kindle versions.
13. Classroom Supplies or Office Supply Store Gift Card
Teachers often spend their own money on classroom supplies and decorations. As a result, they usually appreciate gift cards to office supply stores like Staples and Office Depot, or big-box stores like Walmart and Target. A $20 gift card can go a long way toward helping new teachers stock up their classrooms.
14. Game for Indoor Recess
If you have an elementary schooler, think beyond typical school supplies. Teacher Hope Blumenthal said she loves getting games for indoor recess and books for the class library. Budget around $15 to $20, and check out Walmart and Target for fun games and books for the little ones.
15. One Large Gift Card From the Class
Get all the parents together and pitch in for one or two bigger gift cards to places like Amazon.com, Walmart, Target, Kohl’s, Macy’s or Nordstrom. This way, your teacher can pick out what he or she really needs or wants. If there are 20 students in class, and each family contributes only $10, you’ll be able to surprise your teacher with an unexpectedly large gift.
16. Local Business Gift Card
Teachers play a huge role in their communities, and many enjoy supporting the local businesses that reside there. If your town has a popular coffee shop, bookstore, gift shop or something similar, consider purchasing a gift card for that establishment.
Many people love to receive flowers as gifts. Brighten a teacher’s day with a holiday floral arrangement delivered to the classroom. 1800Flowers.com has a great selection for a variety of prices, some as low as $20 to $25.
18. Gift That Shows You Pay Attention
Although she loves gift cards, elementary school counselor Deena Michael said it’s the more personal presents that mean the most.
“Gift cards are always wonderful, and we appreciate them,” she said. “I also love the thoughtful gifts. I have gotten matching blankets for my twins, and someone gave me a toy train for [my son] one year as my present. I loved them. I also got a Diet Coke wrapped in paper from a student once. I love it. She knew it was my favorite.”
19. Personalized Tote Bag
Many teachers use tote bags to carry their schoolwork back and forth. Fortunately, you can find bags for around $25 on Etsy. For a winning grade, opt for one embroidered with the teacher's initials or printed with a cute school-related saying.
20. Reusable Lunch Bag
Teachers don’t have much time during lunch — they’re often prepping for their next classes or tutoring students. As a result, they tend to brown bag it most days.
Make your teacher’s life a little easier with a reusable lunch bag. Target offers spacious options for $10 to $20.
21. Water Bottle
The school day is long, and teachers need to stay hydrated to keep up with their students. Your instructor is sure to appreciate a S’well bottle, good for cold and hot liquids and available for as low as $25.
22. Flower Pot and Plant
Brighten up your teacher’s day, and your child’s classroom, with a beautiful potted plant. Search “teacher flower pot“ on Etsy to find pots under $25.
23. Decadent Chocolates
A box of chocolates is a great way to show your favorite teacher she's doing a sweet job. Impress your child’s instructor with a decadent selection of treats that you can find at Walmart for around $20 or less.
24. Exactly What the Teacher Wants
Elementary school teacher Alicia Batts once had a parent ask her what she wanted for a holiday gift. “A parent gave me a questionnaire asking me all my favorites so she can get things I actually like,” Batts said.
Her answer? Wine and Starbucks.
25. Just to Be Thought of
When it comes to holiday gift-giving, it really is the thought that counts.
“Personal notes are great! School supplies and gift cards run second,” said Spanish teacher Margarita Doughty. “I’ve never turned down cookies, cakes, baklava, etc. Really, the gift is to be thought of and remembered.”
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