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What your child's teacher really wants (and doesn't want) for Christmas

Samantha Christmann

When my daughter Chloe first entered the school system, I put great thought into what would make the perfect gift for her pre-K teacher.

What do you get for the woman entrusted with the care of your life's most precious blessing? How do you show your appreciation for a woman who steps in for you, day after day, caring for your child and her 19 classmates?

Booze, I decided. Lots and lots of booze. The harder the better.

But it turns out, bringing tequila into an elementary school is frowned upon.

The teacher gift dilemma comes up every year.

You want to do something special for your child's teachers. You want to give them something they will really love. They deserve the best, after all!

Of course, every teacher will tell you that gifts are not necessary. They'll say their favorite things are handmade cards or other tiny crafts that come from the heart.

But still, you know how it is when you really want to do something nice for someone. You want to make sure you're giving them something that's going to make them happy.

To figure out what that something is, I informally and unscientifically polled more than a dozen teacher friends, and asked teachers in a couple of national teachers' Facebook groups what they most love and hate to receive.

A few things came up over and over.

Gift cards. Gift cards were the most popular. Is this really a surprise? After all, gift cards are everyone's favorite present.

Tim Hortons was highly requested, but teachers said they will take any coffee they can get – especially if there is a certain place near the school with a drive-thru.

I know some people feel gift cards are too impersonal, but they don't have to be. Your choice of gift card can speak volumes. It can reflect who they are as a person, what you admire about them or show that you've paid attention to their interests. If you know they play in a band on weekends, for example, you can get them a music store gift card to encourage their inner rock star. If your teacher sent an introduction letter at the beginning of the year, look there for clues.

And you can always pair your gift card with something meaningful, like a handmade card with a heartfelt note inside.

Enlist the room parent. Room parents work alongside your teacher and get to know them well. They'll have a good idea of the teacher's likes and dislikes (and where they buy their coffee, if you want to fall back on that gift card).

Fortunately, my kids' room parents have always taken up a collection among parents and put it together to buy one significant gift. Usually (you guessed it) high-value gift cards, with a small token gift.

Something that doesn't last forever. One teacher said that she is always fully stocked on soaps, lotions and candles thanks to her students' parents – and that makes her very happy. Soaps, lotions and candles are luxurious items that make a person feel pampered – just what you're going for, right?

But the best part is that gifts like that are to be used up and enjoyed, not kept forever. Your teacher doesn't have to make space for it in their attic, or feel guilty getting rid of it someday.

Teachers also love fun, quality versions of things they use in their classrooms, such as personalized stationery, funky pens and cute sticky notes.

Think small with keepsakes. Imagine having 25 students a year for 40 years. Now imagine getting "World's Best Teacher" mugs from all of them.

I'm not saying your teacher wouldn't love and appreciate each and every one, but how many mugs can you fit in your cupboards?

If you're going to go with a keepsake, think in terms of something that can be kept in a scrapbook; something flat and small that doesn't take up much room. Maybe a photo, a note, a story or a drawing.

Ornaments. Teachers said they like to receive Christmas ornaments, especially handmade ones with the child's name on it. One said she loves to unpack hers every year and remember each child that gave them to her.

What they don't want. Of course they appreciate the thought, but some teachers said they prefer not to receive:

  • Homemade, unwrapped food from home, for hygienic reasons. Gourmet pre-wrapped snacks and indulgent candies, on the other hand, are a different story.
  • Large decor is risky, especially anything mass-produced.
  • Crayon wreaths are hit or miss. One Facebook group devolved into a huge back-and-forth about them after someone posted a meme that read, "No son, your teacher doesn't want a crayon wreath someone posted on Pinterest. She wants a gift card to a place with happy hour."
  • Impersonal tchotchkes. Save your money.
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