The perfect teacher gift

I am often asked about the appropriate gift to give your child's teacher around the holidays or at the end of the school year. After almost two decades as an elementary school teacher, here are some thoughts:

First, not giving your teacher nothing is perfectly fine. Teachers do not expect to receive a gift and are often surprised by the generosity of parents, especially considering the state of the economy today and the expenses associated with raising children. 

Not giving a gift does not make you a bad parent in anyway whatsoever.

Contrary to the belief of at least a few parents who I know, the gift that a teacher receives (or does not receive) has no bearing on his or her opinion of the parent, the child, or the family in general. We do not keep score in terms of gift giving. No teacher will ever remember which child arrived at school with a gift and which did not.

Trust me. Not giving a gift is perfectly acceptable with every teacher in every situation.

In fact, many schools have a policy that does not permit teachers to accept gifts from parents, so offering a gift can place a teacher in an awkward and difficult position. Refusing the gift, regardless of the policy, is impolite, but accepting the gift violates school policy.

As a result, no gift is sometimes just easier for a teacher.

But if you're going to give your child’s teacher a gift (full disclosure: my wife and I give gifts to our child's teachers), here are a few suggestions:

The best gift I ever received from parents was given to me when my daughter was born. Each student in my class purchased his or her favorite childhood book and signed the inside cover with a message to Clara. These books were then assembled into a library and presented to me after Clara’s birth. The books in that library are still some of Clara’s favorites today, and we always take a moment to read the messages that my former students wrote to her. A couple of the kids actually pasted photographs of themselves into the book along with the message, and Clara now knows these kids by name.

It was a remarkable thoughtful and lasting gift that I continue to appreciate to this day.

Three things to take away from this:

  • Books make excellent gifts. Be sure to personalize them with a message for the teacher if you decide to give a book.
  • Gifts for a teacher’s children make excellent gifts.
  • When the class is able to come together and pool their resources, the gift that the teacher receives is often something special.

Along these same lines, I know a teacher who received a gift certificate to the local golf course from his class at the end of the school year. Not only was this thoughtful in terms of matching the gift to the teacher’s interest, but he was able to brag to his golf buddies (myself included) that every round of golf throughout the summer was sponsored by his students.

Making an effort to match the gift to the teacher’s interests and passion is always appreciated.

Playing golf for free is great.

Providing a teacher with the opportunity to taunt his friends all summer long is the best.

But when it comes to gifts, I firmly believe that the best gift that you can give a teacher is simply a note expressing your appreciation for all that he or she has done for your child.

Teaching can be a lonely profession. We work in isolation for much of the day, and our primary clients - the students - are not always forthcoming or insightful enough to adequately express their appreciation for their teachers. While we are routinely observed and critiqued by administers, these critiques do nothing to elucidate the impact that a teacher can have on a student or a family.

I have letters from mothers and fathers that I cherish as much as any other object in my life. I read these letters after difficult days in the classroom, and they lift my spirits beyond measure. They serve as reminders that what I do is making a difference in the world when a tough day or an impossible situation causes me to think otherwise.

Regardless of the gift that you plan on giving your child’s teacher this year, take some time to sit down and write a letter to your child’s teachers, telling them how much they have come to mean to you and your child.  Remind the teacher that his or her impact extends far beyond the classroom and that he or she is making a difference in the life of your child.

And if you truly believe that your child’s teacher is exemplary, send that letter to the principal and even the superintendent of schools as well. During my first year of teaching, a mother sent a note to me during the holidays expressing her appreciation for all I was doing for her daughter, and along with it was a copy of a letter that she had sent to the principal and superintendent expressing her support for me.

As a first year teacher, this meant the world to me. It was better than anything else I could have been given that year. It is still one of the best gifts that anyone has ever given me. 

When deciding upon a gift for a teacher, consider the gift of words. Give the gift of appreciation and admiration and love. It really is the best gift that you could give.

Yes, my wife and I will probably be giving Clara’s teachers a gift this year, but we will also take an evening to sit down and write a letter thanking them for all that they do on a daily basis to help make our little girl the person she is today.

I suspect that they will appreciate and cherish these letters more than any book or gift certificate that Elysha and I may give.