How to organize a holiday gift for your kid’s teacher

Cathy of Mayberry Mom shared what I think may be the sanest method of organizing gifts for teachers:

This may be an obvious one, but I think it's so helpful.

At our kids' day care (hey, the source of the other hack I submitted), one of the parents organizes a communal teacher gift every December. She sets up a box full of envelopes, one for each teacher/staff member, along with a holiday card for each person. Parents are invited to contribute any amount of money toward a gift by placing it in the relevant envelope(s) and signing the appropriate card(s). This way each family can give anonymously and tailor the contribution–for example, I give the most money to my kids' primary teachers, a mid-range amount to the directors and cook, and a smaller amount to other teachers who work with my children only occasionally.

After everyone's had a chance to contribute, the organizing parent takes all the funds and buys gift certificates to our local mall for each staffer. No more agonizing about what to give or how much to spend! (I still follow up with a more personal note and some homemade treats for the primary teachers, though.)

Anyone else with a teacher gift idea to share? Teachers: what are the favorite gifts you've received from your students?

Related: More teacher gift ideas, and ideas for group gifts (think: day care, teachers of extracurricular activities…)


  1. Sarah says

    I’ve worked as a day care teacher and taught high school social studies and I always enjoyed getting gift certificates but the gifts I liked most were the holiday ornaments I received, especially the ones made by my students. I haven’t been teaching for the last 5 years but whenever I decorate, I alwasy remember the students who gave me theh ornaments and other decorations.

  2. says

    This sure is timely! I was just thinking about this topic myself, working on a post about how terrible my wife and I have been with planning such gifts and trying to reconcile that this year with stellar group gifts for the teachers in my girl’s daycare/school. I am leaning towards a big fruit basket/cookie platter (homemade, of course).

  3. STL Mom says

    My daughter’s school has asked parents to chip in to buy digital cameras for the classrooms, instead of individual gifts for teachers. They are going to put a collection box out at the Holiday Concert to make giving as simple as possible. I think this was a brilliant idea, and it will be fun for the teachers and the students. I’ll also ask my daughter to make a nice card for her teacher, for a personal touch.
    Now I need to make a trip to Trader Joe’s to get treats for the FOUR teachers at my son’s preschool…

  4. says

    It’s a great idea – I’m married to a teacher and although the whole concept of gifts for teachers is newish over here in the UK, she does get a lot of stuff which never gets used, candles, strange toiletries, little ornaments etc. The other things that go down well are chocolate or a nice bottle of wine! (depends on the teacher though). Also cards made by the kids mean much more that the mums that try and out do each other by buying the most expensive.

  5. Cassyt says

    Teacher’s expect very little, so whatever a child brings in is wonderful.

    That being said, what teacher doesn’t love a GC? At our school, one parent tends to coordinate a class gift. Each family gives $10 to $20 and the pot is divided between the 4 grade level teachers as we team teach.

    Other great gifts are thoughtful cards, a letter to the principal about how great your teacher is, ornaments, coffee, movie passes, books, or donations to the classroom library. My personal favorite is a 12 pk of Diet coke or some Orville Redenbachers popcorn-yummy!!

    Skip the hand lotion, mugs, plants, home baked goodies. The truth is, many teachers won’t touch a home made item if we know Johnny, the cute nose-picker in class may have helped bake it.

    Short answer, If you KNOW a teacher will love it (a bag of peanut m&m’s), it’s better than spending twice as much on something nice, but not personal (lavender hand lotion).

  6. says

    My mom is a 5th grade teacher, and this is a great question!

    The perennial tomboy, my mom never knows what to do with most decorating items (snowmen figurines, teacher-themed tchochkes). After a long career with large classes, she has accumulated so many that she has no idea which came from whom. She feels incredibly guilty giving them to Goodwill (as someone’s feelings might be hurt), so she used to have me take them to a Goodwill in another area code. Our friends with young families are often excited to receive the seasonal items, so I take a big box to playgroup and my brother takes items to his friends as well. We all feel somewhat guilty about this.

    My mom is also allergic to perfumes, so soaps, candles, and aromatherapy items are quickly relegated to the garage until they can be redistributed to friends.

    To further compound the matter my mom is on a pre-diabetic Vegan diet. Food- and food gift certificates can be real landmines (my brother and I often benefit from these gifts too!). My mom was ecstatic last year when one family gave her a simple, pre-packaged bean soup mix and a loaf of her favorite whole grain bread because she and Dad could actually enjoy it.

    There are enough mugs at my parents’ house to supply two armies (in part thanks to my brother and I’s childhood obsession with giving them to our parents).

    Think about the things your teacher teaches. My mom loves teaching math, Lewis & Clark, and the Iditarod. She’s a huge believer in writing thank you notes and other correspondence. She travels often and mails her students postcards from each interesting destination. She nearly cried when last year’s class gift was a gift certificate to the Kentucky State Parks she loves and a roll of stamps! It was so perfect, and the mom who organized it showed such an awareness of who my mom is. The families spent less than they would have on individual gifts to give my mom something really meaningful.

    My mom loves things assist in lessons, and actually my brother and I often give her things for her classroom on holidays. A map of the Iditarod trails or one of Scotland printed on a teatowel for her annual Scottish Christmas Tea make her happier than a new sweater.

    My mom is athletic and loves sports. Tickets to a local high school or college game or the local frontier league baseball team are inexpensive and would make a great night for her.

    The M&Ms tip above definitely applies to my mom as well in her pre-restrictive diet days.

    Bookstore and teacher supply store gift cards (even in very small increments) assist teachers in the multitude of items they stock in their classroom out of pocket.

    A photo of the class and notes from each student bound (by yarn or an office supply store binding) show a lot of initiative and love and offer the teacher memories. These are the things my mom absolutely loves.

    A homemade card is worth a hundred store-bought ones- a thousand if the child mentions things they like about being the teacher’s class.

    DO consider who your child’s teacher is, what their classroom looks like, what your child enjoys learning from them, and how they interact with their students.

    DON’T worry about what items other parents will be buying or how much they will be spending. Those rare teachers who compare givers by their gifts or encourage gift giving one-upmanship are missing the whole point and should get lumps of coal or stacks of papers to grade.

    This is a question of how to tell someone you appreciate them. Often a card where the student and parent actually state their appreciation (and specific things they like about the teacher) are often better than any other gift.

    Stick a candy cane or a box, a box of fruit tea, a map of a historical site, or a box of Andes mints on it if you must.

  7. Jill says

    When I was teaching I kept a file of “love notes” from my kiddies and their parents. On bad days I’d pull out the file and re-read all the sweet notes written to me over the years. I regularly re-gifted all the trinkets given to me at White Elephant holiday parties. A bag of M&M’s and a sweet note? Oh Yeah!

  8. Allison says

    Our PTA collects money from families and then divides it among the teachers and staff (including teachers, assistants, art teacher, music teacher, office and cafeteria staff, etc) based on the amount of time they spend with kids.

  9. Andrea says

    The most popular gift I have ever given to my kids teachers was a large box full of classroom supplies: antibacterial soap, wipes, tissues, paper towels, glue sticks, dry erase markers, etc. I place all the goodies in a file box with a lid that I have wrapped separately, and then tag it with a gift card to the local office supply store. I do this every year for all three teachers, and it can’t be easier. Every time tissues or whatever are on sale during the year, I buy extras, and then I’m ready to go during the busy holiday time. I have heard that when teachers learn that one of my kids are in their class, they get excited, knowing what the holiday gift will be.