Top 10 Do’s and Don’ts of Teacher Holiday Gift-Giving


Updated Nov. 16, 2013

Last year at this time, I was standing in front of a classroom filled with 6-year-olds who were bursting at the seams to commence their Christmas countdown. They wrote in their journals about what they wanted Santa to put under their Christmas tree. They helped decorate the classroom with their artwork. They practiced the festive songs for the kindergarten Holiday Program.

And all the while, their parents were planning elaborate, expensive, heartwarming gifts to give to the best teacher their children ever had.

Okay, maybe I made that last part up. More likely is that those parents, like most parents I know, were stressing over what to give to a person they don’t know very well to express their appreciation for educating their children.

Friends who have school-aged children often ask me for the teacher perspective, the do’s and don’ts of holiday gift-giving. I can’t speak for other teachers, but I know what gifts I treasure and what presents will either be re-gifted or tossed in the trash. The biggest thing to keep in mind is that teachers don’t expect elaborate, expensive gifts. They don’t expect parents to spend hours making presents. In fact, some of the best gifts are the ones that hardly cost a dime.

(By the way, if you’re one of those crafty moms, this list probably isn’t for you. I’ll now direct you to Pinterest and ask that you come back and share the craftiest gift you can find with people like me who don’t have a crafty bone in our bodies.)

Here are my top 10 do’s and don’ts for teacher holiday gift-giving:

1. Don’t give  apple-shaped “#1 Teacher” knick knacks. My daughter’s teacher has been in a classroom for 23 years. Do I think she wants yet another apple-shaped Christmas ornament that says “World’s Best Teacher?” I’m guessing she could fill an entire Christmas tree with those. If you know it’s the teacher’s first year in a classroom, then maybe you can give in to the urge to be cheesy. It will always be a reminder of her first year. Otherwise, skip it.

2. Do give baked goods. Teachers seem to be torn on this point because, after all, ‘tis the season to gain weight. But I say don’t let your inner Martha Stewart go to waste. I’ve been given homemade bread, homemade jam, homemade cookies. Yummy! However, if you know the teacher is dieting, give your inner Martha a rest and go with something else.

3. Don’t use the word “re-gift” in front of your children. Last year, as one of my students handed me a gift bag filled one of the most hideous tabletop Christmas trees I’ve ever seen, he said, “Someone gave this to my mom, but she doesn’t want it. Here you go.” Hmmm, not the best way to tell someone how much you appreciate her.

4. Do get personal. One student gave me a cool keychain of my first initial. Another student gave me personalized note cards. And I envied my teacher friends who received personalized tote bags and insulated lunch boxes. (FYI, non-personalized tote bags and insulated lunch boxes are cool too.)

5. Don’t follow your nose. Stay away from scented lotions and candles. People tend to be pretty particular about their preferred scents. One year I got a candle that was so overpowering I could barely stand to be in the same car with it by the time I got it home.

6. Do work with what you know. Last year one parent knew I was an avid runner. Her present to me? A bag filled with a dozen packets of Gu energy gel. Do you know the teacher loves movies? Get him movie passes. Do you know her favorite snack is popcorn? Get her one of those big tins of gourmet popcorn. Knowledge is power.

7. Don’t let your children pick out the gifts. I know it sounds super cute to tell the teacher that the kids chose the gifts and they’re so proud of themselves, but kids, especially young ones, don’t exactly have the best judgment. Don’t waste your money on the pink butterfly wind chime (unless you know for a fact the teacher loves butterflies) or the dinosaur earrings (unless you’ve actually seen the teacher wearing classroom-themed jewelry).

8. Do involve the kids. Don’t want to spend a fortune? You don’t have to. Give the kids some art supplies and they can make their own cards telling their teachers what they like best about being in their class. Put their best artwork in a frame the teacher can use to decorate the classroom. One of my all-time favorite gifts was a simple cookie recipe handwritten on an index card with a photo glued on the back of the student making the cookies. Super easy, super cheap, and the kids feel involved.

9. Don’t. Buy. Any. More. Mugs. Enough said.

10. Do go for gift cards. Some people think gift cards are impersonal. I’m not one of those people. This is one easy button you should definitely push. A local book store, Amazon, Starbucks, Wal Mart, Target or a craft store like Michael’s to offset the cost of school supplies teachers buy out of their own pockets. It’s perfectly acceptable to slip it into a card (preferably one of those adorable kid-made cards), but if you feel the need for fancier presentation, you can do what one parent did for me and stick it in the card holder of a poinsettia. Two gifts in one!

What kinds of presents do you give to your children’s teachers?

About the Author

Heather Sweeney
Heather Sweeney is an Associate Editor at, former Navy wife, mother of two, blogger, and avid runner. She’s the blogger formerly known as Wife on the Roller Coaster and still checks in every now and then at her blog Riding the Roller Coaster.
  • Guest

    I was always taught to be grateful someone thought of me at all. Given that you want your students parents to give you exactly what YOU want, why don’t you register somewhere. That way no child has to feel bad for thinking of you, but not getting you the “just so” gift.

  • ~Kim

    I couldn’t disagree more with “guest”. Would you rather give a gift that is useful and appreciated? Or a gift that will go in the trash as soon as it’s opened? I know which I’m more interested in giving. I bet “guest”‘s loved ones have a closet full of gifts that will never see the light of day… Thanks for this list!

  • Samantha
  • jacey_eckhart

    Thanks for this idea! My son’s teacher just got married in October. I bet she would like something with her new name on it this year, then back to my old fave “the target card” next year.

  • Sarah — SpouseBUZZ

    This year I am knitting tiny mitten ornaments for the ladies in my daughter’s classroom, but since I probably won’t knit them an ornament every single year, this will be a great list for next year! I appreciate your input.

  • Amy_Bushatz

    To be fair, I don’t think it’s just this site. I think this is an internet-wide problem.

  • amanda

    I gave a $20 wine in nice gift bag with $25 visa gift card

  • guest

    then maybe you should keep your 2 cents!

    • Another Guest
  • Anne

    This shakedown is unethical. It’s not coincidental that it disappears in upper grades as the number of teachers multiplies. Gift someone who won’t remember our names in five years or send a thank you note or compliments to teacher’s supervisor?

  • Guest MG

    My first year giving gifts to my daughter’s teachers. I got two crystal bowls and two crystal vases to give to her four teachers in daycare. Two were her teachers in the first few months of the year and two are currently her teachers. They are all very caring and nice. My daughter loves daycare more than home!!!

    I taped the gift receipt to the boxes in case they don’t like their gifts. They were quite inexpensive as I got them with a coupon from Macy’s, and I was a little hesitant to include the gift receipt, but then I thought they still cost more than an average mug or candle.

    I also took a pastry platter to daycare for all the staff to share. Sometimes there are subs helping out in her class, so I wanted to thank them too. Since she will soon move to the next classroom, I got two nice Scanimation books as a gift for her current class.

    Thank you to all the teachers everywhere and Happy Holidays!

  • guest

    I wish this was here when i was in greade school thankfuly i always gave my teachers their favorite chocolate. This will we quite helpful this year though.