The best teacher gifts aren’t knickknacks or desk objets shaped like pencils or apples or chalkboards. The best gifts for teachers are practical and generally fall into one of two categories: things that can be used in the classroom to enhance students’ experiences or gifts that make a teacher’s already-difficult job a little nicer. You also don’t want to give something too extravagant or expensive, since, more often than not, that’s against school policies.
So to find the best gifts for teachers from students that are both practical and price-sensitive, we talked with working teachers, from a preschool instructor to a college professor, about the unique gifts for teachers they’d genuinely appreciate. Below, 23 teacher-appreciation gift ideas that your kid’s teacher (or the teacher in your life) will actually find useful.
Gifts for the Classroom
“Stuff I usually end up buying on my own or with gift cards from parents that are also great presents are age-appropriate books that go with the themes we study, such as ancient Egypt, the Ice Age, and the Amazon,” says Tracey Bernier, a kindergarten teacher in Arlington, Massachusetts. So ask your kid’s teacher if there are any topics coming up for which you can buy books to share with the class.
For grade-school-age children of any gender who are starting to learn about American history and could do with some feminist inspiration, this “illustrated, encyclopedic collection of ladies who kicked butt,” as writer Jen Doll describes it, is a no-brainer for a progressive classroom.
Another much-appreciated classroom-related gift would be “Expo markers! Teachers are always running out, and they can get really pricey,” explains Marty Rogachefsky, operations manager at Neighborhood House Charter School in Boston, Massachusetts.
Bernier is also “often purchasing things like art supplies, such as cotton balls, tissue paper, paper cups, and pipe cleaners for art projects, too. It sounds silly, but all those projects add up quickly, so it’s nice to receive as gifts.”
“I totally second the idea of classroom supplies,” says Gus Jacobson, a high-school English and theater teacher in New York City. “Multicolored pens like the Paper Mate Flair series are very popular right now, especially with middle school English teachers. Those can get fairly pricey when you buy in bulk, so it’s not a bad idea!”
“My all-time favorite gift is a picture book full of fun class pictures from the year, from Shutterfly or any of those websites that print books, with handwritten notes from my students within the book or on the back pages,” says Laura Owen, a fifth-grade language arts and social studies teacher at Franklin Academy in Pembroke Pines, Florida. “I like those better than CDs or picture slideshows.” This rainbow yearbook from Mixbook is easily customizable (and would be particularly nice as a present for a teacher who’s retiring).
Tim Lesinski, a high-school Latin teacher at Newton North High School in Newton, Massachusetts, would appreciate, “a desk calendar — in particular, a word-of-the-day or trivia-fact desk calendar. We can display these in the classroom, and it’s something that both we and our students can enjoy.”
This page-a-day calendar from Atlas Obscura is filled with facts about natural phenomenon, one-of-a-kind cultural events, and other historical miscellanea.
Gifts for the Teacher
“Nice candles are always welcome since they get used up and are expensive,” says Elizabeth George, a preschool teacher in Manhattan. This scent from Voluspa is apparently one of Selena Gomez’s favorites, and though it looks fancy, it’s under $20.
This grapefruit-scented candle from Jonathan Adler is a perennial favorite at the Strategist.
George would also like “a nice water bottle, like S’well, since we drink a lot of water and those are pricey and useful forever.”
Jenn Giustino, an elementary-school music teacher, would appreciate, “some sort of array of cute sanitizers or set with lotion, such as from Bath & Body Works. I love this because I certainly go through a ton of both working with younger kids.” This hand-care duo from Philosophy comes with hand wash and lotion, perfect if there’s a sink in the classroom.
Stella Benezra, a teacher of the deaf and hard of hearing in the Bronx, agrees that “gentle, natural hand sanitizers” would be nice. SNL comedian Aidy Bryant tipped us off to the gentle-yet-multipurpose Jao Hand Refresher, explaining, “I also spray it on mattresses, zits, makeup brushes, and clothes but mostly armpits. It’s truly not just for hands.”
“All teachers have two things in common: We all need coffee and are generally nerds,” jokes Regan Marin, an eighth-grade Earth-science teacher in Queens. “That’s why I think the perfect gift for me would be a science-themed coffee mug. If you want extra credit, aim for the ones that are temperature sensitive. Last year, I got one that turned my dinosaurs into fossils. This year, I have my eye on a star-themed mug that turns into constellations when you get it hot.”
“If a student got me a foam roller (or the even fancier RumbleRoller, hint, hint), I would be thrilled,” says Dan Safer, head of movement training at New York University’s Playwrights Horizons Theater School. “After teaching five dance classes in a row, I am ALWAYS sore, and having a foam roller available everywhere I go — several of different lengths at home, one at school, a short one for when I travel, etc. — would rock. This would even be good for a math teacher. I mean, everyone gets sore, right?”
If you’re still in doubt about what gift to give a teacher, there’s one fail-safe option. “Every single teacher loves gift cards,” Owen says, and that sentiment was shared across the board. “Most of my co-workers (and I) said they would honestly just want a personalized, thoughtful note and an Amazon gift card,” admits Dana Cheriff, elementary-school Spanish teacher at Columbia Grammar & Preparatory School in Manhattan. And for what it’s worth, George also agreed: “The truth is, we really prefer gift cards, like Starbucks or Amazon.”
“I especially dread making my lunches, and I love going out for lunch to just break up my day and get out of the school building, but it’s just not financially doable,” admits Benezra, which is why a gift card to a local lunch spot would be appreciated. A gift card to Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods could also be nice, especially if there’s one located near the school.
During breaks from school, “I’m most excited just to relax and spend some time with my friends and family,” says Will Ehrenfeld, U.S. history teacher at Pathways in Technology Early College High School (P-TECH) in Brooklyn. “To that end, I would be grateful for and would definitely use tickets to something I can enjoy with loved ones. Movies are easy, but I also talk about music with my students a lot, so concerts are great, too!”
“I am lucky enough to work in a school that provides any resource I might need for my students. This year, however, I have partnered with or used resources from a few incredible organizations that continue to work to engage high schoolers in meaningful work,” says Griffin Pepper, an 11th-grade government, civics, and journalism teacher at E.L. Haynes Public Charter High School in Washington, D.C. “All I really want is to support these organizations, like Mikva Challenge, [which] provides students [with] authentic opportunities to become civically engaged and solve problems impacting their communities. This year, our 11th-graders participated in Project Soapbox, a speech competition that asks students to identify an issue impacting their communities and how we can address it.”
You can do that same exercise with your child, asking them about what issues were addressed in the classroom or that they care about and make a donation in their teacher’s name. Jacobson also suggests a membership to a museum or theater company for an arts teacher: “More personal gifts are always better. I’d make sure to talk with my child about their impressions of the teacher. Inside jokes go a long way.”
The Strategist is designed to surface the most useful, expert recommendations for things to buy across the vast e-commerce landscape. Some of our latest conquests include the best women’s jeans, rolling luggage, pillows for side sleepers, ultra-flattering pants, and bath towels. We update links when possible, but note that deals can expire and all prices are subject to change.
Every editorial product is independently selected. If you buy something through our links, New York may earn an affiliate commission.