Did ya happen to watch Saturday Night Live last Saturday? Thanks but no, I’m not diving into our political nightmare . . .
Rather, I’m referencing their commercial for the Peach Candle. You know the one. That your mother-in-law gave to you and now you have as a back-up gift to give to someone else? The Peach Candle that travels around the world and then back to you, re-gifted hundreds of times over? If you can’t relate, then all I’ve got to say is: you’ve never been a school teacher.
Bath salts, lotion, socks, and mugs. Collectively, they’re the euphemistic Peach Candle. The school teacher swims in a sea of holiday gifts each year, and truthfully, it always feels wonderful to be recognized and appreciated, even if you wind up with sixteen bags of Lindor truffles. And while no teacher I’ve ever met got into education for the money – be it salary or actual gifts – it still is remarkable when a teacher-gift comes along that is something other than the Peach Candle.
First and foremost, the best, the most touching, the most fabulous gift I, as teacher, ever received was a note. One year, a mom wrote me a letter, letting me know that her son talked about me at home, always enjoyed my book recommendations, and told her library was his favorite class in all the years he had been in school. Her note was thoughtful, concise, and incredibly meaningful. Not just that – she sent a copy of this note to my principal, as well. A snippet for my personnel file and a beautiful pick-me-up? Can’t be beat.
Through the years, I’ve received other assorted letters and notes from parents and students. They remain my favorite gifts. I once had a friend ask me if I could recall who had given me gifts through the years. Not really, but I do remember the handwritten notes.
It takes time, energy and a certain amount of thought to write something to a teacher, and we teachers know this all too well, which is why it impresses us so. Plus, everyone loves a compliment. (And compliments are free, people! Free!)
Most teachers I’ve chatted with agree that notes and letters brighten our day, but beyond that, I’ve not been able to figure out any other consensus as to What Makes A Good Teacher Gift. I’ve asked around, sent out emails, and relied on my memory a bit, here, and as frustrating as this is, it makes perfect sense. Not all teachers are alike; we all have different preferences, bug-a-boos, and lifestyles.
Nonetheless, I’ll give the whole what-to-get-a-teacher-for-Christmas a go, for what it is worth. But I need to say this first: no teacher I’ve ever met – ever—expects holiday gifts. And no teacher I’ve ever met – ever – treats students differently based on gift-giving (for one, they’re just too tired to even remember). Not all families give gifts, and this is a-ok. Not everyone has the time or the money to shop for their teachers, and this is just fine. As I said, nobody ever in the history of education, decided to become a teacher for the holiday loot. Your child will be known and loved, no matter where you land on the whole teacher-gift-giving spectrum.
Get to Know Teacher
No matter what you think you might like to do for your teacher, it will really help if you know a little something about him. Take a look around. Ask your child to pay attention. Ask subtle questions. If she always walks into work with a bagel from a certain bakery, a gift card for that shop would be a safe bet.
One of my guilty pleasures? An ice cold Dr. Pepper after lunch but before the day’s end. One year, a library volunteer popped in with a 12-pack of my heavenly lifesaving sodas with a bow stuck atop. She observed my almost daily habit, and her gift was both memorable and refreshing. (This also reminds me to say that gifts do not have to be expensive to be wonderfully thoughtful.)
Does your teacher love a certain flower? Color? Type of food? These details will help you find something that might be a good fit. Does he always write with a certain pen? Does she mention the Houston Astros all the time? Does he snack on the same kind of candy bar every afternoon? Observe. Your answer as to what to do for your teacher might be right before your eyes.
The reverse is true, as well, in terms of what not to get your teacher. One teacher I spoke with sponsored her school’s environmental club (a big environmentalist herself) and received a tall stack of Christmas’y Styrofoam cups. She wasn’t too thrilled.
But I get it. Sometimes no details are revealed. Sometimes, you don’t have much time, as you hustle around, making the season bright. In lieu of a Peach Candle, here are some other ideas for you –
Generic Gifts a.k.a. Peach Candle
The appeal of the generic gift, of course, is ease. They tend to be inexpensive and can be purchased for all the teachers on your list. It is a beautiful thing, the generic gift, but there are some classic pitfalls – and some ways to get it right, according to my teacher friends.
I’m thankful for my front porch for many reasons, but especially because it has been a marvelous spot to use all candles I’ve received through the years. If I didn’t like the scent, it became a Front Porch Candle. I figure the candle adds ambiance and the smell might drive away some of these Houston mosquitoes (worth a shot, anyway).
Having said that, please be careful when gifting anyone (not just teachers) an item that has a scent (this includes candles, soaps, lotions, etc.) to it. Not everyone hangs outside with stinky candles as much as I do. Smells are just so very personal; you might love pumpkin spice, but it might give your daughter’s basketball coach a headache. Play it safe and just avoid, says me.
Other generic items that are . . . well . . . not always the most original are:
Socks – Even elementary school teachers, no matter how Ms. Frizzle-like they may seem, do not need a drawer full of reindeer socks. They just don’t.
Mugs – Yes, many teachers drink tea and coffee to survive. And no, we do not need any more mugs, even if there is a cute puppy dog on it. (I was surprised to discover that, like me, other teachers find mugs so personal. Yes, what your mug says or looks like is a statement, and so many of us like a certain size, shape, and handle to our mugs. When you take caffeine as seriously as we do, the mug plays a big part.)
Apples – Give your teacher a real apple, if you must, but no, no, no more wooden apples, apple wreathes, apple pins, apple kick-knacks. Enough.
Signs, framed pictures, wreathes, and general knick-knacks – Most of the time, you know whose room you’re in. You honestly don’t need two or three signs saying “Mrs. Smith’s Class.” In fact, most classrooms are pressed for space. Adding more stuff just isn’t necessary. Just as you enjoy decorating your house in a certain way, most teachers have a certain ‘look’ for their rooms. It’s just easier not to guess if your poster/sign/rock fits in.
Some non-stinky, more original generic gifts that might work for you and your teacher are as follows . . .
A family whose children I taught gave me a bag with cute ribbon, tape, and gift tags every year to help with all the wrapping I needed to accomplish. I’ve seen on Pinterest the same idea: a roll of wrapping paper, ribbon, tape. Most teachers I know are just as busy as you are – such items can be helpful.
Another year, I received some paper plates adorned with snowflakes. The tag attached suggested I give myself a night off of dish duty. I kinda shrugged, but sure enough, a few days later when the countdown was ON and I thought I just might not make it, I saw that package of paper plates on my countertop and did, in fact, treat myself to a dishless night. Bliss.
One very practical mom gifted me with a book of stamps, with a darling note that encouraged me NOT to write her a thank-you note. STOP EVERYTHING. HOLD THE PRESS. BEST GIFT FOR A TEACHER, EVER??? The suggestion that he NOT script a thank-you note! No matter what you gift, for the love of all that is good and sensible, write a little sentence saying please, go relax over the vacation, and do not even think about sending us a thank-you note. OKAY, BACK TO THE LIST…
Festive – or even solid colored – dish towels or hand towels for the bathroom can be handy and hopefully carry no odor.
If you walk in and hand me some flowers, my heart will melt before your eyes. They beautify a desk, classroom, or kitchen table and often are passed up when we shop for ourselves. A small little posey of flowers is full of charm.
And while it does have a smell to it, some teachers forgive the no-scent rule when it comes to dish and hand soap – both very useable, practical, appreciated.
Take a look around your own home! Anything consumable and useful has potential!
I received some mixed feedback in this area. While many teachers I visited with like several of these items, a few suggested that, similar to (but not quite as bad) the coffee mug situation, they don’t need any more of these. Generally speaking, however, the following teachery items got a thumbs-up from most educators I polled:
Tote Bags – Teachers haul lots of papers, books, supplies to and fro. Quality totes (especially with monograms) received high marks for being useful. Same idea with lunch totes.
Note Pads – Most teachers write lots of little notes. A note to remind, a note to thank, a note asking the librarian for a book . . . Several teachers with whom I’ve chatted like the personalized small pad of paper for all this quick communication we do.
Cups/Water Bottles – I don’t get it, either. We don’t like mugs but we do like a nice insulated drinking cup (such as Tervis or Yeti)? Now, remember, I’m just reporting my (very unscientific) findings. When you teach, you talk, and you drink lots of water. Sipping a cup that keeps your beverage of choice cold while not spreading condensation everywhere is pretty handy.
Supplies – while some schools (and some teachers) have larger budgets than others, many teachers still enjoy extra supplies in form of quality pens to stickers to fun books or games for the classroom. I would, however, ask what is needed. Teachers often know how to hide and hoard. There may be plenty of glue sticks hiding in a top shelf, but she might love some new leftie scissors for her classroom (or herself)!
There are homemade gifts and then there are homemade gifts. Some teachers adore them, some politely accept them. I’ve been gifted homemade ornaments, magnets, jewelry, greeting cards, and much, much more. I’m an arsty-craftsy sort of girl, and I always advocate children being involved with gift-giving as well as activities that require their fine motor skills and creativity. I’ve even worn a macaroni necklace (although if I’m being honest, I wore it the one time).
As thoughtful as homemade gifts are intended to be, I think it is wise to ponder what the receiving end looks like. Many teachers I know have been teaching for years. Add it up and we’re talking hundreds of classes, students, and parents, which potentially means hundreds of homemade items.
My grandmother was a school teacher for years and years, spending most of her career in a 3rd grade classroom. She kept every single homemade Christmas ornament she ever received. My favorite was the ornament made from those little white creamers for coffee that looked like a dog. The Christmas tree in my grandparent’s living room was covered in ornaments, as a result, and she was delighted.
I’m more of an ornament snob. I appreciate the work that goes into a child’s creation – I honestly don’t think anyone would say that I don’t – but it probably won’t get onto my Christmas tree. My grandmother became a teacher later in life, once her own children were past elementary school. For me, any homemade ornaments that go on my tree are the ones my own children make.
I’m telling you all of this just to say that I’m guessing no matter if a teacher wears, uses, or employs a homemade gift, she will appreciate the thought, time, and care that went into making it. If you’d like to gift your teacher something he will likely wear, use, or employ, however, you might want to really examine the item being created.
As for class or group gifts that are homemade, the same is true. Realistically, teachers only have need for so many class quilts, framed art, or painted pottery from all of their students. This is such a delicate thing, is it not? I know that both of my children have experienced a handful of teachers in a handful of classes that are simply top-notch. Their experience has been so excellent, I want to dream up the best, most meaningful gift imaginable for this teacher. In truth, that is what letters and notes are for. My child’s teacher does not need a leather-bound book with artwork and essays from all 20 of her students. She’s seen it all year. The woman needs a massage. And a drink.
Treats & Baked Goods
This is entering tricky territory. A big box of Godiva chocolates might be perfect for a giant chocolate lover, but maybe less so for the teacher attempting to shed some pounds.
I guess my best advice here is for you to put on your thinking cap. A single woman, living alone might not need (or want) a couple loaves of pumpkin bread, grandma’s secret recipe or not. Me? With a hubs, two teens, and several teen friends and nephews who hang out here all weekend? I’ll take all the extra food I can get! Know your audience.
Some teachers I talked to really enjoy homemade cut-out sugar cookies and freshly baked brownies (one teacher told me that she always hosts her December book club and offers all her gifted treats and everyone looks forward to it); others were less enthused to test their already weakened self-control at a time of year when goodies are around every corner. I guess there is no Right Answer to the Should We Gift Teacher A Bundt Cake Or Not conundrum (but if it has rum in it, the answer is yes).
I always appreciate food that freezes well, too, which – fortunately – includes most holiday treats. Peppermint bark, cakes and cookies, a box of chocolates . . . It can all be thrown into the freezer and pulled out when one of my kiddos has six friends over to watch a movie in January. Gifting food items that cannot be frozen and might spoil quickly is a little less practical for the recipient.
Clothing, Accessories, & Other Such Items
I can barely predict which jeans my daughter will like or what size sweater my own son wears, and these humans live with me all the time. I do their laundry, look at them daily, and hug their precious bodies – and still I can’t always figure out their size, their distaste for a certain shade of purple, or their preference for V-necks.
In other words, good luck. Clothing can be tough. Even items such as scarves and bracelets that, you figure, will fit any teacher might not hit the mark. Because some people can’t stand wool on their skin or dislike certain colors and textures or never even wear pins . . .
And yet. One of my favorite gifts is a necklace I received from a young student made of upcycled beads and (as the cord) T-shirts. I’m not much of a necklace person, either, but I wear this one fairly often because, quite simply, I like it. Isn’t that the nearly perfect gift? Something you didn’t even know you wanted – that you probably wouldn’t purchase for yourself – that you like?
So, I guess what I’m saying here is such personal items like shirts and gloves and purses and whatnot are generally to be avoided. But, sometimes you risk it. Sometimes you spy a funky pair of earrings that you just think your son’s reading tutor will love, and you go for it.
One teacher friend of mine says her favorite baseball cap reads Peace on it with small yellow embroidered flowers – it was a teacher gift. She adored the student who gave it to her, this cap fits just right, and it is her go-to when running out the door and there is no time to deal with bed head. She confessed she never would have picked it out for herself.
Gift Cards –
The Good: Generally speaking, lots of teachers like the gift card. Coffee, restaurants, movie theaters, stores, you name it. Even small amounts can be nice, as oftentimes, if a teacher receives several gift cards from the same spot, it adds up a bit.
The Bad: You might be shaking your head and wondering who wouldn’t want a gift card?! Well, some people don’t actually drink coffee (not me, I assure you) or coffee at Starbucks, in which case such a gift card isn’t too exciting. I’ve received countless iTunes gift cards, but I own a Windows phone. Gift cards for shops that do not have an on-line option or for restaurants that only have one location can be challenging for teachers who might live in the opposite direction. And? Sometimes small amounts (say, a $10 gift card) to a spot that has higher prices (say at a restaurant where entrees are close to $20) are only helpful if a teacher might shop there anyway.
Once again, knowing the teacher you wish to honor helps a bit. Your son’s English teacher is also a triathlete? Sure, get a gift card to the sporting goods store! Your daughter’s music teacher seemingly drinks smoothies every time you spot her? Yep, gift card to the smoothie shop, coming right up.
One of my favorite gift cards I received was for a local grocery store – the note said something along the lines of I know you find yourself at the grocery store a lot this time of year – while you’re there, I hope you pick up something wonderful, just for you. And you know what? I did. I remember grabbing a small bouquet of flowers and thinking how thoughtful.
Some people think cash is impersonal, maybe even a little tacky. I think most teachers, however, will tell you that Cash is King. Especially during the holidays, who couldn’t use a little extra spending money? And might I remind you, teachers this time of year are exhausted. Little kids are usually off schedule and on a maaaaajor I-can’t-wait-till-Christmas-high; their teachers barely have the energy to drive home, much less think about dinner. Big kids are completing final projects and taking exams; these teachers are grading until their eyeballs ache, frantically completing report cards and comments, and want nothing more than to fall into bed at a reasonable hour.
If said teachers have an extra $20 (or more!) passed their way, it means a tank of gas is covered or maybe an easy pizza dinner provided for them at a time of year when they could really use some TLC. If gifting cash makes you feel weird, write a note, suggesting, lunch is on me! Or You deserve a drink – my treat! But, just trust me on this, you can never go wrong with a cash gift.
Don’t Bother with the Holidays
It can be all so overwhelming, can’t it? It’s not like you’re sitting at home, twiddling your thumbs, yourself. So, if the holidays become too much, and you’re simply running low on energy (and money) think about showing your gratitude some other time of year!
Back-To-School Night (which ends up being a really long day for most teachers), Parent-Teacher Conference Day, and Valentine’s Day are all awesome alternative opportunities to do a little something special for your teacher.
Or, deliver a colorful bouquet with a wish for a Happy Spring sometime in April or May! There really is nothing quite like an unexpected mood booster! One year, a parent brought me a menu for a nearby (and tasty) restaurant. She asked me to select my lunch, and she brought it in the next day. No reason, she just wanted to do something nice for her daughter’s teachers. It doesn’t have to be Christmastime to show thanks in form of a gift, so don’t sweat it if it’s just not happening for you this year. In fact, a little box of chocolates or a gift card for a manicure might really hit the spot in the middle of February.
So, how’d I do, teachers? Feel free to add more ideas, words of caution, and thoughts in the comments! And, as always,
Contact me at fplweb (at) frontporchlibrarian dot com