'Tis the season for gifting (and re-gifting) but what if your recipient secretly wishes you hadn’t taken the time? That’s the predicament of teachers around the holidays. How many bottles of scented hand cream does one really need?

As a parent, you want to choose a gift that reflects your gratitude to the people who spend their days nurturing and educating your child, but what should you get? How much should you spend? Don’t you wish you could just ask them? Luckily, we did it for you and here are the results of our informal poll of (anonymous) teachers.

A+ Present: “In my early teaching days, I received a gorgeous, and funny, set of note pads imprinted with ‘The Truth from Ruth.’ I’ve saved a few sheets to this day.”
–Ruth, Monroe

Thumbs up: Without a doubt, gift cards win unanimous approval. “Seriously, gift cards are the most cherished teacher gifts…they just are,” said a first-grade teacher. Restaurants, department stores, iTunes: They all issue them in various denominations and there’s often a section in your grocery store that stocks them so you don’t even have to go out of your way.

Thumbs down: “‘World’s Best Teacher’ mugs—I must have 25 of them!” groaned another first-grade teacher. “I drink from one, then I fill the rest with pens in my den, toothbrushes in my bathroom, plastic utensils in my kitchen, pencils in my classroom, and I still have some left over!” General consensus from teachers in all districts: No more mugs.

The impossible-to-re-gift tote bag, and more –>


Thumbs up: Gift certificates to day spas or for a manicure or pedicure. “I use them to pamper myself over winter break,” said a third-grade teacher.

A+ Present: “I received an enormous handmade card from about a dozen of my closest art students that contained a very thoughtful and personal message of gratitude and appreciation. Its sense of ‘family’ is something that I will carry with me for the rest of my career.”
–Shawn, Woodcliff Lake

Thumbs down: Tote bags are also often emblazoned with that ubiquitous “World’s Best Teacher!” Stated one second-grade teacher, “Everyone I know has enough, so they’re next to impossible to re-gift.” Best conclusion to draw: Forget anything imprinted with those three words.

Thumbs up: Several teachers enjoy a nice bottle of wine, although a male teacher admitted to feeling a little uncomfortable when having been presented with alcohol by a fresh-faced fourth grader.

Thumbs down: “Never buy clothing, especially t-shirts with the child’s photograph screened onto the front. It’s just weird and will never be worn,” said a first-grade teacher. “Scarves, please, no more scarves!” pleaded a second-grade teacher. Ditto for ties.

Thumbs divided: Teachers didn’t agree on the subject of food gifts. A couple of male teachers owned up to really enjoying plates of cookies and other holiday treats. However, one female teacher voiced reservations about home-baked goods. “Did the kindergartner lick the spoon while she was helping mommy bake?” she wondered. Fruit, in place of calorie-laden fare, won a unanimous thumbs up: Think small gift basket or Fruit of the Month club.

Thumbs down: Perfumes, hand cream, bath salts, and after-shave lotions. “These items are just too personal and the scent is always one I would never choose for myself,” said a third-grade teacher.

Consider taking pen to paper –>


Thumbs up: A gift choice along those lines of a teacher’s hobbies is often met with enthusiasm. It might be a fun, little kitchen gadget for the gourmet cook or a destination book for a travel buff. Grill your kids a little if you need to find out more.

A+ Present: “I’d taken an interest in a child who was a bit of a challenge and his mom dropped off a vase at my home. It was just this little thing, but I was really touched. I still use it!” –Lisa, Sayreville

Thumbs down: Tiptoe around gift cards or certificates from hot-button corporations such as Starbucks or Walmart. Unless you actually see a teacher with a Starbucks cup in hand or toting a shopping bag from Walmart, don’t make assumptions that everyone’s a big fan (or even a coffee drinker).

Thumbs up: Many of the teachers polled said that often the most meaningful gift was a letter of thanks or recognition for a job well done. “It’s such a boost to receive validation,” said a first-grade teacher.

The bottom line is that teachers really don’t expect gifts, and are genuinely appreciative of them all. But if you are going to give, spend your money wisely. Get something you know they’ll be glad to receive. Go in with other families on gift cards or certificates; even small contributions can add up fast. Combine it with a thoughtful card or letter and you’ll be sure to please.

June Allan Corrigan is a writer and mother of two school-age children. She is no stranger to the perils of selecting the perfect teacher gift.