Please, no undergarments: How to find the best teacher gifts

Teachers are used to shows of appreciation from students, but what kind of thought should be behind the gift?

Sarah A. Miller/The Tyler Morning Telegraph/AP
In this photo taken Monday, Nov. 17, 2014, All Saints Episcopal School music teacher Johnny Ray tunes a student's ukulele after school.

I’ve given homemade chocolate bars to a teacher on a diet, who rather desperately asked if she could give them back immediately. I myself have received a rotten banana (with love, I’m sure), and a fellow teacher’s recent memorable gift – whether she wants to remember it or not – was a delightful pair of undergarments.    

No matter how it shakes out, every year the intent is good and pure: show the teacher how much we care about and appreciate them.  

The practical carrying out of that sentiment, however, can sometimes lead to a confusing tangle of broken candy canes, skeptical-smelling bath salts, or an unidentifiable mystery wrapped in foil. Does she really need another Santa mug? What if he’s sworn off coffee, and now has a Starbucks card that used to be viable cash? Although it is beyond comprehension to some, it has been said that not every human being wants to bathe in and surround themselves with an unending supply of chocolate peanut butter fudge.  But then, the eternal question: if not fudge, then what?

Of course teachers deserve special appreciation at this time of year, but as some of the most selfless people on the planet, they are not known for listing their demands, which leads the rest of us to wonder: what do teachers really want this week?

From asking a few teachers from all grade levels, one common theme surfaces; in one form or another, it is still all about the children! First grade public school teacher Abigail Bannon says she would love gift certificates towards buying supplies for the classroom so that she doesn’t have to use her own money. The hard truth is that many teachers use a significant amount of their personal funds to fuel the learning in their classroom. Helping them find a way to use less of their own money seems in keeping with the holiday spirit.   

A teacher at a Title One school in Texas, Leah Ethington says, “it is really all about the gesture.” That said, Ms. Ethington also voiced her own personal aversion to clutter and preference for anything functional. One of her favorite gifts was a “Teacher’s Survival Kit” of sorts with lip balm, hand sanitizer, and chocolate.   
Speaking of chocolate, it brings up the important question – what about food? Some teachers look forward to the idea of having endless treats to tuck into their desk drawers for days to come, but for others, it’s simply too much all at once. For still others, allergies or dietary preferences keep them from enjoying the well-intentioned bounty. Getting to know your teachers better is never a bad idea, but it’s especially helpful if you know of a food aversion before baking a dozen chocolate chip cookies.

When asked what they wanted parents to know about their jobs, especially during the holidays, the overwhelming response from the teachers interviewed was that the best interests of schoolchildren are always at heart. Even though she could wait until after the break, Bonnie Bosak Staudt, a high school teacher from Missouri, insists on doing her grading even before doing her own Christmas shopping, because she knows there will be students who would otherwise be anxious about the result during the holidays. 

And that kind of thinking is worthy of praise and a little token of appreciation.

The most successful teachers' gifts are those that make them feel like you understand how hard they work, how much they care about your children, and how much extra time and effort they put into their jobs outside the classroom. Get to know your teacher! Maybe she really would love a gift card towards her morning coffee, or maybe he can’t imagine anything better than a plate of chocolate-frosted brownies.  It could be as simple as a heart-felt card from your child saying thank you in his own words.  

If the gift says, “We see your work and we are grateful for you!” it’s the right one.

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