Time is running short but here are great ideas for inexpensive yet meaningful gifts for teachers.
Teachers should be high on your list of holiday gift giving. Most of us don’t have the money to spend enough to give something that comes close to thanking them for all they do. But while “it’s the thought that counts” may not play well with your kids, a small token of appreciation really does go a long way with their teachers.
The Penny Hoarder asked several educators to help create a list of teacher-approved gift ideas.
“The best are the notes from the kids. Honestly, those are the things that you save in your desk drawer,” said Kate Brown, who teaches middle school English in Charlotte, N.C.
A thoughtful note or words were the most common response when teachers were asked to name their favorite teacher gift. What they universally don’t love getting? A coffee mug.
Cookies, brownies or other sweet treats made by your young child are also not high on many teachers’ lists. Think about it. They’ve seen your children’s dirty hands. But if it’s your trademark chocolate pie or Nana’s spicy party mix, teachers love that kind of homemade cooking.
Gift cards for any amount to anywhere were what teachers mentioned most often when naming favorite gifts. If you have several children and several teachers to shop for, consider some of the holiday gift card deals going on this time of year.
When you buy $50 worth of gift cards at Outback Steakhouse, you get a $10 card free. So for $50, you can give six $10 cards. Of course, while $10 won’t buy a steak, it will cover a drink, appetizer or dessert. Nothing wrong with helping someone enjoy a meal a tad more even if you don’t give them the whole thing. (Outback Cards are accepted at several chains including Bonefish and Carrabba’s.)
Consider these gift ideas for a favorite teacher to go along with a nice note.
21 Teacher Gifts To Buy or Make for Under $10
1. Gift Card for Coffee or Cheap Eats
A $10 gift card goes a long way at Starbucks, Chick-fil-A or McDonald’s, and your teacher will love finding that in their wallet after a long day at school or weekend of grading papers.
For a more personal touch, do a little investigative work to find out if the teachers ever have food delivered, then pick up a gift card from that place.
2. Gift Card for Rare Indulgences
A $10 gift card at Whole Foods or a local gourmet market won’t buy a week’s worth of groceries, but it will buy a decadent dessert, luxurious body wash or other splurge your teacher might not otherwise treat themselves to. A gift certificate to a local bakery is a great option, as well.
“That’s all I ever want and the kids know it,” said Kathleen Tobin who taught high school journalism in St. Petersburg, Florida.
She kept a bag of Hershey Kisses one student gave her in the freezer at home and another bag of miniature Dove bars in her desk drawer at work.
4. Baking Kit
Buy a new set of measuring spoons and a measuring cup from a dollar store. Add a bottle of vanilla extract and pack them together in a pretty gift bag. Include a copy of your favorite cookie recipe if you like. (Get bags and tissue paper for any teacher gift from a dollar store.)
5. Nail Kit
A fun teacher gift is a cute bag with two bottles of nail polish and an emery board. What a nice treat to start the new year with polished toes or nails in a new color.
6. Christmas Ornaments
“I have so many ornaments on my tree that students have given me over the years. I really do think of each one when I decorate my tree,” said Penny Manning, who teaches fourth grade in Kinston, N.C. “Some are homemade and some maybe they got on a trip or something.”
7. Custom Tote Bag
Buy a simple canvas tote. The youngest students can make handprints with fabric paint, then Mom or Dad can write “Best Teacher Hands Down,” with a Sharpie. If the handprints are horizontal, they can be turned into fish by adding eyes, bubbles and waves of water. Older children can decorate the bag with a pattern or picture painted with fabric paint or drawn with Sharpies.
8. Custom Note Cards
A custom set of stationery designed by a student makes for a unique gift. Fold eight pieces of plain paper in half and the young artist can draw a picture on the front of each. Add eight standard envelopes (the cards can be folded again to fit) and eight stamps. Tie them up with a satin ribbon around them.
9. Dog Treats
These make great teacher gifts for educators with dogs. Buy a box of treats or make your own, then put them in a plastic bag and tie a ribbon around it. Or, find a cute container for your treats at a dollar store, Goodwill or other charity store.
10. Human Treats
As stated above, homemade cookies, cakes and pies are always yummy. You can think beyond sweets and make a quiche, soup, spaghetti sauce, salsa or whatever is your specialty. Again, put it in a cute container you buy for a few dollars or try the plastic ones with holiday patterns sold this time of year at grocery stores.
11. Emergency Kit
“One time a student made me the cutest emergency kit,” said Robin Clemmons, a former preschool teacher in St. Petersburg, Florida. “It was a gift bag with Advil, a Tide to Go stick, chocolate, a can of soda and chips. That was one of the most unique teacher gifts.”
12. A Plant
A little bit of green brightens any classroom. You can buy a succulent, spider plant, one-pint Santiago Palm or flowering bulbs for $5 to $10.
13. Reusable Cutlery
“One student gave me reusable travel silverware in this little container. It was a thoughtful gift,” said Clemmons. “Teachers bring their lunch too.” Scroll past the pricey sets on Amazon to find several for under $10.
14. School Supplies
Many teachers spend their own money on classroom supplies such as art materials and teaching aids. Several educators we interviewed said a gift certificate to a school supply store is a perfect gift.
15. Combine Forces
If two or three families plan something together they can go in on a group gift, such as a gift certificate for a nice dinner out.
16. Tea Time
A box of tea bags from the grocery store or a local shop is nice. Add a little pot of honey and a pack of colorful cocktail napkins from a discount store to make this moment they spend sipping tea more special.
Many cities have a local soap store selling homemade soaps in a wide range of colors, scents and ingredients. Your kid’s teacher will love a colorful bar with the image of a sunshine, heart, fish or you-name-it embedded in the middle.
18. Memory Plate
Have your student (or you if their handwriting is still emerging) use colorful Sharpies to write experiences the class shared on a plastic dinner plate. Draw a little heart, flower, or circle between each word or phrase. Memories can include titles of books the teacher read aloud, the class pet’s name, a field trip destination, a play conducted, a rainy day game played indoors, a math exercise or a song the class often sang.
19. Fortune Cookies
Ask for a few extra fortune cookies and a to-go box with the wire handle when you pick up Chinese food. Place the cookies in a box with a note about how “fortunate” you are to have such a great teacher. Students can decorate the box with a drawing, glitter or a magazine photo collage.
20. Trader Joe’s Candle
“One year a student gave me a candle from Trader Joe’s. It was in this cute tin and smelled fabulous,” said Robin Tuverson, who teaches sixth grade in Los Angeles. “I had no idea they sell candles and now that’s the only place I buy them.”
At just $4, the soy wax candles burn for 20 hours and come in flavors like watermelon mint, strawberry basil, and pineapple cilantro.
21. Class Memory Book
If your child’s school has a Facebook page or you have taken pictures at events throughout the year (of the class — not just your little darling), you can get photos printed and compile them into an album with funny comments from young students. Even without photos, you can make a fun “biography” of your teacher according to students. Ask other parents to solicit answers from their child to questions such as: What do you think our teacher dreams about at night? What is our teacher’s favorite food? What’s the most interesting thing you learned this year? Why do you think it’s important to go to school?
And for a big laugh: How old is your teacher?
The honest answers out of the mouths of the young will may be sweet, hilarious and make for good table talk during your teacher’s holiday.
Katherine Snow Smith is a freelance reporter and editor and author of “Rules for the Southern Rulebreaker: Missteps & Lessons Learned.