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The best teacher gifts are heartfelt, practical, and generally fall into one of two categories: something that can be used in the classroom to enhance students’ experiences or something that expresses appreciation for a job well done. And don’t underestimate the power of a note of thanks paired with cash in the form of a gift card. After all, teachers often spend their own money on supplies for their classrooms, and there’s a limit to the number of coffee mugs or candles one person can use. Our advice: Avoid items that a teacher may already own or things that are over-the-top expensive, which can fall into an against-school-policy gray area unless you pool resources from multiple parents or families.
To find the best gifts for teachers that are both practical and personal, we talked to more than 25 educators from kindergarten to high school, who teach everything from physics to music and the arts, about the gifts they actually want. Below, the expert-recommended gift ideas that your kid’s teacher (or any teacher in your life) will appreciate.
Personalized notes and stationery
“The thing that makes me happiest is a handwritten note from a student,” says Jesse Kohn, a high-school history teacher at Saint Anne’s in Brooklyn. “I have kept every one I’ve ever gotten.” Six other teachers we spoke with mentioned handwritten notes as well: Sharon Thomas, a third-grade teacher at Panola Way Elementary in Georgia, says they make her feel appreciated, whether they are from students or parents, and “should not be underestimated” as a gift. Thao Vo, a sixth-grade mathematics teacher in Long Beach, California, 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.”
Richard Schwartz, a high-school history teacher of over 40 years and the father of Strategist writer Erin Schwartz, agrees that a handwritten note is “almost always the very best gift” and helps “contextualize a class, a student, a year, a career.” He adds that teachers reread these letters: “Occasionally, when things are going a little bit bumpy — and they go bumpy every school year at some point or another — teachers pull them out and look at them. They become a gift that keeps on giving, because they’ll enable the teacher who’s had a bad day or maybe is in a rough patch … to look back and say, ‘Doggone it, I am good at this.’”
Designs relevant to a teacher’s subject, like the book-themed set above, are a solid option. But if you prefer something with more flexibility, the Frank Lloyd Wright prints work for pretty much any occasion.
As much as teachers appreciate receiving handwritten cards, they’re prolific writers of thank-you notes. This personalized stationery with an adorable paper-airplane motif will make them excited to sit down and gush about how much they loved that “World’s Best Teacher” mug. The playful art is a nice nod to a classroom setting without feeling specific to one subject, and the thoughtfulness of a custom gift will be remembered fondly every time they dash off a letter.
Not all teachers have time to draft actual letters. This customizable notepad is a sweet gift that’s perfect for less formal communications, like reminders to parents or notes of encouragement for students.
Consider adding a gift card to your personalized note: 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 an assistant dean at a New York City private school. “A parent thanking me in a note attached to a gift card can mean a lot and be used to help purchase a new vacuum, 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 first-grade teacher in Manhattan, prefers Visa or AMEX gift cards because they avoid the problem of what to do with gifts she won’t use. Vo points out that teachers spend 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.”
“I can always use a bookstore gift card,” Schwartz says. He recalls a trip to a since-closed New Jersey bookstore in the 1990s: “I was delighted to have the opportunity to go and buy myself a free book.” Schwartz prefers cards from retailers other than Amazon, especially local bookstores. If there isn’t one near you, a gift card to Bookshop, which supports independent booksellers, achieves a similar result.
Sarah Miller, a former music teacher and current home-school teacher, says that because teachers often buy their own classroom supplies, “gift cards to stores that sell school supplies are always appreciated.” Depending on the type of teacher, you can get a more specific gift card based on their needs — like Office Max card for middle or high-school teachers stocking up on essentials like notebooks and pens, or Michael’s for elementary-school teachers or anyone else who works on creative projects. Rebecca Heller, a college counselor at the Viewpoint School in Calabasas, California, agrees: “When in doubt, teachers always love a gift card. It’s not the amount, but the thought that makes the gift special.”
Liz Kleinrock, founder of Teach and Transform, recommends giving the gift of a massage or other spa treatment like a facial. “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,” versus a gift card earmarked for something relaxing.
If your recipient isn’t a fan of massages or acupuncture but still could use some much-deserved self-care, Heyday sells gift cards that can be used at their online store, where you’ll find Strategist-approved skin-care brands like Herbivore Botanicals and Supergoop.
Gifts for the classroom
For teachers who continue to wear masks in the classroom, a pack of high-quality KN95s ensures they’ll have a fresh one for each school day. Both the plain white Powecom mask and these colorful KN95s from Kaze are favorites of Jacob Cohen, a fourth-grade teacher in Brooklyn. He appreciates that they sit off of his mouth and don’t move when he talks.
Jenn Giustino, an elementary-school music teacher, would appreciate “some sort of array of cute sanitizers or a set with lotion,” she says. “I love this because I certainly go through a ton of both working with younger kids.” Stella Benezra, a teacher of the deaf and hard of hearing in the Bronx, agrees that “gentle, natural hand sanitizers” would be nice. This lavender-scented essential-oil hand sanitizer is Sarah Michelle Gellar’s favorite because of its “beautiful scent.”
Like Giustino, most teachers could use a hydrating hand lotion to keep in the classroom — whether their hands are dry from hand sanitizer or from all the handwashing they do. This one from statusy natural skin-care brand Aesop was voted “best smelling” in our list of the ten very best hand creams. According to hand model Christina Ambers, it has a citrusy-woody scent that doubles as a quick aromatherapy session on stressful days.
Schwartz says that a framed photograph of a teacher with the student or the class is “an inexpensive but oftentimes a very meaningful thing. I have quite a few of those up in my classroom.” These Ikea frames are recommended by interior designer Betsy Helmuth, who says that “there is nothing like” them. “They have an amazing range of sizes and standard color options, and every frame comes with a mat.”
Several teachers we spoke to say they rely on paper planners to keep track of lesson plans and daily schedules. Erin Condren teacher planners are among our favorite planners for teachers. Condren’s planners come recommended by Jessica Garza, a kindergarten teacher in Katy, Texas, who runs her own blog the Primary Parade, and Heather D. Nelson, a longtime homeschooler and mother of three. Garza particularly likes how the planner “can showcase an entire week of plans on a one-page layout and separates the page into several subjects.” They come in soft cover or spiral bound and with a ton of different cover designs.
Of course, they’ll need something to write with in their planner. Karen Engelkenjohn, a retired elementary-school teacher, says you can’t go wrong with a pack of fancy pens, especially since they have a penchant for disappearing in a classroom.
Personalized items can make “a great classroom gift,” says Kate, a music teacher at a Boston-area private school where “the kids need to have pencils to mark their parts” in each piece of music. She’d appreciate “boxes of customized pencils with the school’s name or the name of the class or ensemble.”
Finn Menzies, a kindergarten teacher in Seattle, recommends giving the eco-friendly gift of a laminator. “It just makes my classroom work stations last so much longer, and our school’s machine is broken. It’s 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 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 be thrilled to receive “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, is “Expo markers! Teachers are always running out, and they can get really pricey.”
With paints in hand, kids will feel inspired standing in front of this customizable easel recommended by artist and arts educator Rebeca Raney. The standard model comes with a green chalkboard on one side and a whiteboard on the other, but you can mix and match different surfaces (like a magnet board for $20 extra). The maple frame holds up in even the most rambunctious classrooms, according to Raney, who says, “This is something you would keep and pass down.”
For teachers with excitable (and impatient) students, this mushroom-growing kit provides “almost instant gratification,” according to Sera Rogue, owner of the Brooklyn gardening company Red Fern. Students will watch the fungus bloom in just a matter of days, and after they’re picked, a new batch will begin growing, much to the class’s delight.
Engelkenjohn says she has gifted this Melissa & Doug balancing game to all of her teacher friends and their families. “It’s something that almost everyone’s going to like, there’s lots of variations for you to play, and it’s very fun and engaging,” she says. “It’s a good visual and physical challenge for kids.” It comes in a junior version that includes plastic instead of metal pieces for younger classrooms. Plus, Engelkenjohn notes, “There’s a bit of a play on words, because of course we teachers don’t want to ‘suspend’ students!”
“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.”
Thomas likes the idea of giving educational and fun classroom supplies to a teacher. “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.”
This origami kit will encourage students to disconnect from electronic devices and engage with something tactile while learning the Japanese art of paper folding. Talo Kawasaki, an artist and the resident origami teacher at Resobox, a Japanese cultural center in the East Village, recommends this guide that walks newbies through projects like “seahorse,” “Kanji” the dog, and “ninja jet.” If you need a little more help than what the diagrams provide, you can access video tutorials from the publisher’s website.
Kids’ books publisher Stephanie LaCava has a particular field of expertise: children’s books by artists. Her favorite titles include this uplifting introduction to Jean-Michel Basquiat and Maya Angelou, which shares a message of bravery that has resonated with many generations (the 25th-anniversary edition was published in 2018). While it makes a great gift for an art or creative-writing teacher, students and teachers of all subjects will cherish this defiant poem set against the backdrop of Basquiat’s work.
According to educator and homeschool mom Britt Hawthorne, children around the age of 5 tend to love animals, and a picture book full of them is a great way to hold their attention. “You could get a solid 30 minutes of them just looking at the pictures,” she told us. Jacob Cohen seconds that opinion, and directed us to this kid-friendly animal encyclopedia, which has tons of photographs to pore over.
Strategist writer Liza Corsillo (one of the authors of this article) describes this magnetic tape as “so satisfying.” Used by her husband to decorate his fourth-grade classroom, the tape “turns anything into a magnet,” including classroom decorations, photos, paper cutouts, calendars, and lists. It’s made from a thin magnetic material with an adhesive backing.
“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. He likes science-themed, temperature-sensitive mugs: “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.”
A coffee subscription will keep your favorite teacher alert in the early hours of the school day and while trekking to work before the sun is up. This one earned a recommendation in our gift guide for coffee lovers from award-winning barista Erika Vonie, who says it’s a gift that will continue to surprise even the most jaded of coffee drinkers.
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 be used to keep coffee hot.
While doctors say blue-light-blocking glasses won’t really do much to combat eye strain from screen time, Candice Ellison, a fourth-grade teacher in Atlanta, does tell us that her eyes feel less tired and that she’s had fewer headaches since picking up a pair. Though teachers may not be in virtual classrooms as much these days, they still spend plenty of time in front of screens and could benefit from these frames when making lesson plans and prepping for classes. “I’m probably going to get another color because they are really cute and cheap,” Ellison adds.
Gifts for days off
“Nice candles are always welcome, since they get used up and are expensive,” says George, a Manhattan preschool teacher. Emily Atkinson, a high-school special-education and algebra teacher in Nashville, loves burning candles to get into “work mode.” She recommended a no-longer-available Honeysuckle Jasmine candle that she found after reading a Twitter thread about Black-owned candle companies. This candle from Black-owned Baltimore candle company 228 Grant Street is a good alternative — it has jasmine notes as well as plumeria and melon.
“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.
Heller suggests going the self-care route. “Teachers are working twice as hard as in the pre-pandemic days,” she says. “Gifts that would allow them to have a little ‘me’ time would be great.” She suggests organic, fair-trade tea from Numi; this variety pack has something for any taste.
If your kid’s teacher is a dog owner, you might consider giving them a toy for their pooch. Cohen’s students recently gifted him one of these plush hedgehogs and a gift card to a local pet store. “The kids were all big fans of my dog, since I talked about her a lot in class. So getting a gift with her in mind felt extra special,” he says.
“If a student got me a foam roller, 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.”
Chocolate is a quintessential teacher gift, especially over the holidays, when it will likely become fair game for the teacher’s family. Both Schwartzes still remember a box of chocolate seashells gifted by a student in 2003, most likely from Guylian, the Belgian company that first started producing the candy in the 1950s.
Felicia Kang, who teaches high-school history in Brooklyn, 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.
Engelkenjohn and her children have been “trying to get away from giving things, so we’ve been giving each other experiential gifts to make memories,” she told us. She recently discovered Let’s Roam, a company that creates scavenger hunts in cities all over the U.S., where teams must find hidden locations and complete challenges to earn points. “It would be a nice gift for a teacher to receive tickets to a local activity,” she says.
If you’re looking for a group gift from the class parents that’s not a gift card, giving the gift of continued education is a fun alternative. Monica Cohen, a visual arts educator in New York City, says “a useful classroom gift would be a membership to a subscription site for educators — depending on the subject this could be Amazon Prime Video, Netflix, or teacherspayteachers.com — that will benefit the students as well. I’m a visual arts teacher, so a membership to a local museum would be really nice.”
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