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the last-minute mama: It's teacher gift time!

Thank goodness for Asha of Parenthacks, who tweeted about 45 minutes before I was due to pick Truman up from his last day of preschool before the break. She was making this chai concentrate from the Oregonian (lots of good homemade food gift ideas in this series, too) for her kids' teachers. Forty-one minutes later, I'd decided upon some of my fanciest jars of homemade preserves and decorative doohickeys to cover the lids, and off I went. But now I must get together gifts for Everett's teachers to avoid (I type only 16-some hours before his bus picks him up) the last minute.

Last year I had it really together, and purchased farmer's market tokens the Saturday prior to the last week of school. Smart hmm? I even made sweet little notes mentioning our favorite vendors and pointing out that the last farmer's market of the season would be the Saturday after school got out. Though I still think that this is a great idea (more on that later), not only did my gifts almost not get given due to snowed-out school, the last market day of the year was so cold Portland Farmer's Market canceled. Sure, the tokens were good in the spring, but who knows if the teachers remembered where they put them.

While most of we urbanMamas founders had little ones in daycare, we chatted about gifts for daycare providers. Among the comments there was a link to this post about teacher gifts; throughout all these I found many good ideas and themes. Here are some of the most commonly-mentioned ones:

  • Gift certificates are the best gift of all (though rarely, teachers find them impersonal). Not only did one daycare provider ask for "a certificate to either a toy store or a supply store. Why? Because, I swear, I lose at least one toy a day due to toddler destruction," but gift certificates can be regifted (I suspect my middle sister, a teacher, of having done this on more than one occasion). I thought my farmer's market token idea was brilliant at the time; but you may want to choose a year-round market.
  • Gift certificate ideas: coffee shop, New Seasons, craft store, toy store, restaurant you know is convenient to teacher's home/school, co-op (I saw Truman's preschool teacher at People's so I can give her a GC with confidence!), Fred Meyer, spas, massage therapists, Escential, Powell's, one of Portland's awesome chocolate shops (Alma or Sahagun), other ideas?  
  • Winter-themed or holiday-themed ornaments, either purchased or made by your children, are welcome for teachers if you know what holiday they celebrate. Warning: make sure you're certain they celebrate Christmas before giving them Jesus in a popsicle-stick manger.
  • Food gifts. The Oregonian, as I mentioned, had a nice roundup of gift ideas; hot cocoa mix spiced with something unusual (chile? cinnamon? star anise?), homemade preserves (especially ice cream toppings), homemade spice blends, dried chiles, and pickles seem good choices. Buy some fantastic finishing salt from the Meadow, if you really love your child's teacher (vanilla salt!). Homemade vanilla is the hot gift this year (so says my Twitter stream); I'm making one batch with a star of star anise in addition to vanilla (I tested this myself and it's delicious -- but if you make it tonight, be sure and add a best-by date on label). However. Please remember, this being the city it is, many many people have very strict food rules, either due to values or aversions or allergies or some other things altogether (fear of pesticides maybe!). It would be unfortunate to give homemade Tollhouse cookie dough to a locavore teacher who doesn't do sugar or gluten. If you don't know, skip the food. At the very least, list ingredients with as much specificity as possible.
  • Crafty mamas. I have faith in my ability to make something with my own hands that a teacher will like. Perhaps it's hubris, but I'm going with it. I am, I think, about to head upstairs to my sewing room to pull together some reusable market bags for Everett's teachers and such, into which if I am still in possession of calm children, I will put some sort of food gift. Other relatively quick-to-make ideas I've come across in the past several minutes: quilted list takers (sweet); recycled sweater hats; retro apron; handspun yarn or needle roll (if you know teacher is a knitter). I'd love to hear your ideas.
  • Lotions & bath things. This wouldn't float my boat, but according to many online sources and real actual teachers, these are sometimes appreciated. To be safe (again remembering the city in which we live) I'd choose a brand with as few harmful surfactants and parabens and such as possible. One really excellent local brand is Wild Carrot Herbals; I met Jody, mama in charge, when she was hugely pregnant with her little daughter and I appreciate her products and principles mightily. You can find them at New Seasons, Limbo and People's Co-op (and probably other places, too).
  • No mugs! (Although if I were a teacher I would love a mug made by a local potter; I'm not a teacher so don't assume ;).
  • A nice letter. I was surprised how many times a teacher mentioned he or she treasured a thoughtful letter of appreciation. Especially, a hand-written one.


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My teacher friends love gift certificates and/or gifts for the classroom. I usually give Powell's gift cards, which kills two birds--if they need classroom books they can spend it on that, or they can spend it on themselves.

My child's teacher has several projects listed at www.donorschoose.org. A donation there would be a great option as well, if your child's teacher has posted projects.

A lot of teachers also have wishlists at bookstores (again, my child's teacher at Powell's) or a wishlist of classroom needs, and it's always nice to grab items from there, with maybe a little something personal attached.

My teacher-friends are so much into homemade food gifts (or store-bought, for that matter), mugs or bath products. Individual taste can be an issue, and the mugs/knick-knack gifts really start to pile up over the years.

Letters are wonderful. Simple, sincere, priceless, and easy to accept. I teach 7th and 8th grade English.

We are decorating inexpensive dish towels for my son's preschool teachers. Just using crayons then ironing them between two pieces of paper to set the crayon. It may not last forever, or fit their kitchen decor, but they are cheap enough to be accepted without feeling uncomfortable and they show that my son was willing to take some time to say thank you. Plus, he is really exciting about ironing them.

Although I know you are trying to be PC with all the comments about food, I really don't think any teacher would EVER scoff at a gift, even if THEY can't eat it, someone in their family can. I really don't think moms need to spend their time worrying about this. If you are able to whip up some tollhouse cookies from the freezer, fantastic. Please don't obsess about being perfect or "out-doing" the other moms. I am a high school teacher and I don't expect gifts from my students, so I always appreciate a candy cane, note or chocolates even though I am diabetic and need to watch my sugar intake. It really is the thought that counts.

Eco-friendly cloth bags are also good option for gifts. Moreover it reduces pollution and plastic bag use and promotes the use of more environmentally friendly alternatives.

I have to strongly agree with Meg. Do what you can, if you can, and if you can't...don't worry about it! If you are reading the above post and can't/don't want to do any of the things mentioned, it's ok, don't let this stress you out, especially if you can't do everything "handmade" or "local"...a simple card, or a spoken wish for a restful & relaxing break and happy holidays goes a long way! Last year our family spent hours choosing gifts, all locally made, including some wonderful local restaurant gift certificates for our children's preschool teachers--we never heard a word of thanks, except from one teacher (who was very appreciative). Our kids were very excited to give the gifts, but very disappointed that they never received any thank yous (even verbally)...it was an interesting lesson for them, esp. since we always emphasize saying thanks/making thank you cards when they receive a gift. This year, we are doing things differently because we have to due to finances. Simple gifts, sweet cards, and warm wishes.

I agree with agree above! We have had the same experience with little show of appreciation...a simple thank you note goes a long way. But then again, I see this problem all around me from friends/family. Bring back thank you notes!
ok...sorry that I hijacked, but it struck a chord with me.

We usually give a card with a hand written note and include a little envelope with cash in it. EVERYONE loves cash!

agree and thank you's are still important: I've been getting wonderful thank you's from friends, teachers, and family lately, making me re-think my position (or my general terrible job making good) on thank-you notes, which I wrote several years ago... http://www.urbanmamas.com/urbanmamas/2006/01/do_you_write_th.html

however, I don't necessarily think the lack of thanks should determine whether you give gifts to future teachers.

also, Meg and agree, re: my comments about food: I was just attempting to give some ideas which would help those of you struggling over a decision about what to get to narrow it down. if you've seen a preschool teacher eating graham crackers with the kids, chances are he or she doesn't have many food restrictions. I have this uber-focus on food so I often pay close attention to the likes and dislikes, allergies and aversions, of others... it's something I'm very sensitive to. I read a story of a woman who was diabetic and often gave away her teacher gifts to her children; if you're hoping to get the teacher something he or she will appreciate and use personally, it's worth consideration.

We just give a handmade holiday card thanking them for what they do. We aren't able to give gifts to anyone really, just cards, but the sentiment behind them is real.

Last year and this year I collected cash from parents for a gift card to Lakeshore Learning for the teachers/classroom. They can use it for classroom or selves or re-gift. Homemade cards and a few treats to round it out. My sister in law is a preschool teacher; she much prefers supplies, or gift cards for supplies. At the same time she LOVES the homemade gifts and cards but does prefer things she can use, rather than eat. Would you want to get 30 bags of cookies or candy?

Last year and this year: gift cards to Powell's for my kids' teachers. Card/artwork done by by the kids. I figure they can either buy something for the classrooms, for themselves, or use towards their own holiday gift shopping.

I ask the teachers what they like/don't at the parent/teacher conference. This year my kids dipped rod pretzels in melted chocolate and decorated w/sprinkles. We always do a homemade something. Each teacher also got a gift card and one of the trader joes mini boxes of chocolate ($2/each I slowly stockpile from Oct - Nov/Dec). I picked gift cards to a fav. restaurant for the teachers and put it all in homemade t-shirt totes.

I've also had good luck with gift cards -- Powell's is always a good bet. When our baby was in a daycare setting with multiple teachers (too many to buy individual gifts for), we brought in good bagels one morning of Hanukkah and gave them one big gift card to Starbucks. It was close by and many of the teachers would go there regularly, so they were all able to get a yummy drink and have a bagel on us.

When our son left, we got them a gift card to Hot Lips pizza - the teachers were so appreciative that they could order in a lunch (that was delivered) to have together. One said, "we never get to do that!" This wouldn't work for a preschool setting, but was perfect for a toddler/infant setting where the teachers were all together.

And always I include a hand-written note expressing our thanks for all that they do. It's a hard job and a little appreciation goes a long way. This year at preschool one mom organized collective gift-card purchasing - to restaurants (for a fun night out) and to New Seasons (either practical groceries or indulgent splurges). Worked out really well.

For my daughter's teacher we did a bookstore gift card tucked into a nice journal with a note from me and a handmade card from my daughter. For others (dance teacher etc) I came across some Smith and Hawkins potted amaryllis and paperwhites bulbs that just need to be opened and watered to grow...the feedback on these was great.

The two care providers at our daughter's day care will get a small gift card to Fred Meyer along with some home made jam and cookies.

Those are good ideas, but as a teacher I would say ornaments and lotions/bath stuff aren't really high on the list of things we like getting. And you're right, definitely, no mugs! Any gift is thoughtful and appreciated, not expected, but I think it's normal that if a person gives a gift they'd like it to be liked by the recipient. Thanks for making the list to help with that!

maybe it's just me, but when i was teaching i didn't really enjoy the homemade food items, unless i really knew the family it was coming from. of course i appreciated the thought, but sometimes i'd get homemade food items that kind of sketched me out. especially from students whose hygiene was questionable. i can't be the only teacher that feels this way, am I? personally, i always enjoyed the gift cards for things i could actually use and i REALLY appreciated the thoughtful notes from students and parents telling me they appreciated my hard work. and I never thought badly of someone who didn't give a thing. i can't imagine any teacher that would.

happy holidays all!

My daughter's preschool does NOT allow gift cards or cash. If received, they must be passed on to the school. So, it has made gift giving difficult. It's so hard to please everyone. I was a teacher too and while all cards and gifts were very much appreciated, only half of them did I wind up using or liking.

There are seven teachers we wanted to get something for this year and I was having a hard time figuring out something they would all actually use. On this rainy day I got inspired and bought each teacher a nice umbrella that folds up small enough to fit into a large purse or back pack. I can personally always use an umbrella - mine always seem to go missing, or break. I hope they'll find them useful :)

P.S. I'll also have to say that at another preschool my daughter went to, we got each teacher a $25 gift card (3 teachers) and only got a thank you from one of them. That kind of put me off a little when the other two teachers never said anything...

Can I be a total scrooge and say that all the gift-giving around this time of year drives me totally crazy? It's stressful for me (financially and mentally) to try to think of gifts to give each of the 25 members of my family, let alone teachers, daycare providers, etc). And, honestly, I get more than a little stressed out by all the gifts that my family and I get, as well. We don't have a big house. We have to find room to put everything. And then there is all the waste of the wrapping (handmade, local, or not!) and packaging.

As a teacher, I totally and completely support a nice, thoughtful note or card. End of story. And if you really want to give a gift, give it in February, or some other dreary month of the year, when we're not expecting it!

As an elementary teacher, I'm always touched by what my students choose to give me for gifts. I think it says a lot about what they know about me personally in the gifts they give. One boy was a neighbor with my co-teacher--he gave me a wine glass! THAT was a hilarious gift! Overall though, I always appreciate notes more than things. I work in a school with a lot of poverty/ homelessness. It is very hurtful to some kids to see others give a gift and get praised publicly for it. I open gifts very discreetly and give every child a thank-you note regardless of whether they give me a gift or a picture with their name signed.

I gave my daughter's preschool teacher (who is on food stamps) a Chinook Book this year. $15 for me, lots of savings for her. She was happy with it and I didn't have to worry about her food issues or mug issues. Done.

I just wanted to say... I am a special education teacher... and no one ever remembers me :( I work with so many children that are not on my "caseload", and of course work with those that are. I love them all the same! It is hard for me to see all my general ed teachers getting all these lovely notes, and handmade treats... It makes me feel completely forgotten about. Being a teacher is super hard work, and being a SPED teacher has its own unique set of challenges. So next year, remember the SPED teachers, they would love to hear from you too :)

I agree with SJ about the stress of gift giving. I also wanted to add that I find it inappropriate for public school teachers to accept anything of value from students. Just think how the other students who can't afford an expensive gift for the teacher must feel when they see it! If it was up to me, I would ban public school teachers from accepting gifts (except non value, like a note). It would be just like doctors who can't accept lavish meals from the pharma industry any more (and thanks God for that long overdue rule).
That said, I am very thankful for the hard work teachers are doing every day. My opinion has nothing to do with lack of teacher appreciation and everything to do with protecting the feelings of less affluent children.
btw. I have been told an elementary school in one of the Vancouver, WA school districts had an online list of places their teachers would prefer to receive a gift card from. Can you believe that?

Moms, you are so very sweet and giving and kind. As a teacher for 20 years the thank you letters written by the students and decorated with their little hands are always what tops the cake for me. They are a true treasure and they are used to help decorate the room. The giving students are so pleased to see the impact they have on their teacher with their heart felt words. As stated above, don't stress over buying anything; but, if you really think you are in need of doing something - get together with the other moms to collect money in order to donate to the teacher's favorite charity - like our soldiers over seas, homeless shelters, etc. Just a thought. We know how busy this season is for all and these are two ways to take the stress out for you and still put a smile on the teacher's heart that he or she will carry forever!:) Merry Christmas!!!!

There is a school wish list posted in the office where my kids go to "school" - preK and toddler. I know the teachers writing well enought to see who had written what, so we got them each something they had "wished for", for the school. For my daughters teacher, garden tools for the garden. For my sons teachers, stuffed animals for one and wooden puzzles for the other. We gave all 7 of the teachers a handmade bar of soap and fingernail scrubbers. I tried to leave them anonymously, while the kids were outside playing, but got caught by one of them!

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