The best teacher gifts aren’t knickknacks or desk objects shaped like pencils or apples. Teachers want things that are heartfelt, practical, and generally fall into one of two categories: something that can be used in the classroom to enhance students’ experiences, or gifts that make a teacher’s already-difficult job a little nicer — think relaxing things here. Just remember: giving gifts that are over-the-top expensive can easily fall into an against-school-policy gray area (unless you pool resources from multiple parents or families).
To find the best gifts for teachers from students and their parents that are both practical and personal, we talked with 20 teachers from kindergarten to high school, who teach everything from ESL to music and the arts, about the unique gifts they actually want. Below, 25 teacher-approved gift ideas that your kid’s teacher (or the teacher in your life) will genuinely appreciate.
Note: Since we are now in the final surge of holiday shopping, we’ve checked this post to make sure everything is in stock and should arrive before December 25. But prices and stock are subject to change, so check to make sure your gifts will ship in time.
“Honestly, the thing that makes me happiest is a handwritten note from a student at the end of the year,” says Jesse Kohn, a high-school grade adviser at Saint Anne’s in Brooklyn. “I have kept every one I’ve ever gotten.” Five other teachers we spoke with mentioned this too, including Sharon Thomas, a third-grade teacher at Panola Way Elementary in Georgia, who also saves the notes she has gotten over the years. She says they make her feel appreciated, whether they are from students or parents. There are many things that a parent could give to a teacher, she says, but “a thank-you note should not be underestimated.” Thao Vo, a sixth-grade mathematics teacher in Long Beach, CA, says, “When students take the time to write me a note or a card to tell me what they’ve learned or any way I’ve inspired them, it helps validate the many reasons I became a teacher.” Those cards are even more meaningful if they mention some inside joke or something specific to the teacher. Vo gave a great example: “I am obsessed with llamas, and one of my students adopted a llama in my name. It was so thoughtful.”
Adding a gift card to your personalized note is something any teacher will appreciate. It may sound boring, but many of the teachers we spoke to say that they love getting gift cards to restaurants, movie theaters, Amazon, Target, or even Whole Foods. “Families often mean well by trying to get you something very specific and elegant, but most teachers actually need things that are boring and unglamorous,” says Terrill Caplan, assistant dean of students at the Dalton School in New York City. “A parent thanking me in a note attached to a gift card can mean a lot and also be used to help purchase a new vacuum I need, groceries, or a fun night out with friends.” Thomas says “you can’t go wrong with restaurant, movie, or store gift cards because just about everyone eats, shops, or watches movies.”
Vanessa De Riggs, a second-grade teacher in Brooklyn, prefers cash or Visa/AMEX gift cards because they let her buy what she wants or needs, and they avoid the problem of what to do with gifts she doesn’t like. Vo points out that teachers spend a lot of their own money on supplies no matter where they work. He says “a Target or Amazon gift card is a gift that gives back because I’ll most likely spend it on my classroom, whether it’s antibacterial wipes, treats, or colored pencils.”
No one deserves pampering as much as teachers. They spend every day taking care of other people. Liz Kleinrock, teacher and diversity coordinator at Citizens of the World Silver Lake in Los Angeles, says that the gift of a massage or other spa treatments like a facial is sure to be a winner. “My suggestion is to give teachers experiences, rather than things. Self care is incredibly important for teachers, but I do find that when I have extra money, I’m often inclined to spend it on books or materials for my students rather than myself.” De Riggs recommends gifting massages, mani-pedis, or other spa treatments as well. “It’s hard to find time for self-care when you are with kids all day and are in grad school like myself. So having the extra push to show me that they acknowledge the hard work that I do is always nice.”
Gifts for the Classroom
Even the smallest gifts, when personalized, can make a huge impact, says Kate, a music teacher at a Boston-area private school. “For me, the kids need to have pencils to mark their parts. I think a great classroom gift would be boxes of customized pencils with the school’s name or the name of the class/ensemble.”
Finn Menzies, a first-grade teacher at Lowell Elementary in Seattle, recommends giving the eco-friendly gift of a laminator, something all lower-school teachers can appreciate. “It just makes my centers [classroom work stations] last so much longer, and our school’s machine is broken. It’s also an ecological factor. If I have to print papers for each kid — oh, my God — but if I laminate the sheets and they use dry erase marker, I’m saving paper and also I can use the same sheet over and over for years.”
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.”
Another much-appreciated classroom-related gift, according to Marty Rogachefsky, operations manager at Neighborhood House Charter School in Boston, Massachusetts, would be “Expo markers! Teachers are always running out, and they can get really pricey.”
“With so much focus on test scores, we don’t get a lot of time to have fun,” says Christina Ziegler, a reading consultant in Connecticut. “However, games like Boggle, Taboo Junior, Scrabble, and Apples to Apples Junior are fun and educational. They help teach students new vocabulary and get us all giggling. If I could receive one thing it would be one of these games.”
Thomas also likes the idea of giving educational-but-fun classroom supplies. “Believe it or not, I would love to have some Legos for my students,” she says. “When it’s too cold to go outside for recess, the Legos provide something fun (other than a computer) to do for a break.”
Gifts for the teacher
“All teachers have two things in common: We all need coffee and are generally nerds,” says Regan Marin, an eighth-grade Earth-science teacher in Queens, New York. “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.”
Elizabeth George, a preschool teacher in Manhattan, recommends giving “a nice water bottle, like S’well, since we drink a lot of water and those are pricey and useful forever.” This insulated bottle will keep water cool all day and can also be used to keep coffee hot.
“Bath salts are always nice. Teachers work hard, and they work long hours, often arriving at school around 7 a.m. and staying up late at home marking tests and homework. It’s nice when parents give a gift that says, “Thank you for spending so much time caring about my child — we’d love to know that you are taking some time for yourself now,” says Kate, a music teacher in Boston.
Jenn Giustino, an elementary-school music teacher, would appreciate “some sort of array of cute sanitizers or set with lotion. I love this because I certainly go through a ton of both working with younger kids.” This hand-care bundle from Dr. Bronner’s comes with hand wash, lotion, and sanitizers. Stella Benezra, a teacher of the deaf and hard of hearing in the Bronx, New York, agrees that “gentle, natural hand sanitizers” would be nice. This gentle-yet-multipurpose Jao Hand Refresher comes recommended by actress Aidy Bryant, who loves it for its multiple uses: “I spray it on mattresses, zits, makeup brushes, and clothes but mostly armpits. It’s truly not just for hands.”
Jackie Allender, a kindergarten teacher in Bardstown, Kentucky, recommends giving a cozy and attractive throw for chilly days. “I’m always cold in my classroom,” she says.
“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 going for a personal gift, Caplan says she likes books relating to a course you teach or a conversation you had. “When I get a gift that shows kids have come home and talked about conversations we have had or interests we share, it really means a lot. I work with high-school students so, for example, if we had a lot of conversations about friendship and I was gifted The Neapolitan series that would be great.”
Felicia Kang, who teaches high-school history in Brooklyn, also appreciates books related to conversations or subjects covered in her classes as well as her favorite Moleskine journals which she uses on a daily basis. This book about the history of city life came from a student who was passionate about ancient urban history.