10 Great Gifts for Teachers

While there is no requirement for your child to give a holiday gift to his or her teacher, it is a pretty nice way to tell an educator “thank you.” My parents, both teachers, have received a wide variety of gifts from their students, and over careers of 30+ years, they have amassed some interesting items. I have compiled some favorites of theirs, as well those of a friend who recently retired from teaching.

How about a mug imprinted with “#1 Teacher"? No. That teacher’s coffee mug cupboard was probably full long ago.

What about perfume? Nope. There are only so many gallons of Jean Nate that a teacher can wear in a lifetime.

Wouldn’t the teacher love a framed photo of your child? No. (One of those really showed up one Christmas, in a popsicle-stick frame.) Do you have framed photos of customers or clients around your home?

Here are ten better ideas.

1. Frozen Ravioli

Winning the “most memorable” category, my father received a box of frozen ravioli. They were homemade by a family that had owned a renowned Italian restaurant on the Northern California coast, and they were absolutely delicious. He was thrilled with such a marvelous gift. While I think ravioli are challenging to make, a basket with pasta sauce, pasta, cheese, and bread would be really nice, too. (See also: 7 Savory Food Gifts)

2. Cookie Mix in a Jar

For the teacher who suggested this, who was also a mom, this present represented the gift of time. She just needed to add a couple of things to this mix and could then bake holiday cookies with her own daughter. (See also: 15 Delicious Gifts You Can Bake)

3. A Homemade Game

My dad taught a math class for math under-achievers. Part of his strategy was to play math-related games. A student made him a beautiful wooden cribbage board, which he uses it to this day.

4. Coffee

Just about everyone loves coffee, and teachers are no exception. My friend Nancy loved the coupon book she received for the local coffee shop. A coffee gift card is also a hit, and a bag of a gourmet blend is nice for the teacher’s lounge. 

5. All-Purpose Cards

Nancy also loved student-made thank-you cards that she could use right away. This was a gift that was both charming and practical.

6. Add to a Collection

What does the teacher collect? This idea requires a little sleuthing. My mother, for instance, collected snow-globes. She was delighted when a new one showed up as a Christmas gift.

7. Christmas Ornaments

I still have some of the ones that my mother received, made by little hands. I can even tell you which students made them because she was so thrilled with them. The ornaments from Kaboose are so cute that I need to borrow somebody’s kid and make some.

8. Books

Some school book programs allow you to purchase books for the classroom according to the teacher’s “wish list.”

9. Classroom Help

Field trips are pretty tough when you are trying to wrangle 20+ kids. A coupon for your time would be wonderful. Elementary teachers often also need help with prepping for big projects. However, if you give the coupon, be ready to commit the time when asked.

10. Swedish Tea Ring

This is a wreath-shaped sweet bread. I think I made four of them for my daughter’s favorite teachers at Christmas during her senior year in high school. They were very well-received. Besides the great homemade appeal, the wreath shape is very festive-looking.

None of these 10 items is very expensive, but they are all fairly memorable. My father chimed in that he felt “homemade things were always the best.” I thought this was good advice, as many of us look toward simplifying holiday gift-giving. One caveat, though: If your children are not yet mature, you might want to limit their participation to making non-food gifts for the best chance of a truly appreciated and useful gift.


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Guest's picture

I would also add chocolate to the list. My mom taught kindergarten and grade 1 for over thirty years, and by far the most appreciate gifts were gifts of chocolate. (She's also a huge chocoholic -- your child's teacher's mileage may vary.)

Marla Walters's picture

Absolutely, chocolate! Can you ever have too much chocolate?

Guest's picture
Nancy J. Gill

If you DIY, a sample of your work can be economical and unique - knit or crocheted scarf or hat, etc.

Marla Walters's picture

Nancy, bet you can do that DIY stuff, and I'm already jealous. Taken knitting lessons three times . . .

Guest's picture
Mandie Fowler

Some of my favorite gifts my students have given over the years are: homemade snacks or deserts (fudge is my favorite), Christmas ornaments, and mini bottles from Bath & Body Works. The most unique would have to be one of my students last year had 2 other sisters, and a cousin at the same school. Their moms fixed breakfast (casserole &fruit) for their teachers and delivered it to school.

Marla Walters's picture

Hi, Mandie, and thanks for the comment. Nice picture! Your "most unique" idea (breakfast for teachers) was really nice. I am sure that was appreciated.

Guest's picture
Music Teacher

I am a teacher and, sorry to say, most home-made food ends up uneaten or passed along to others. Unless I know and trust the family a great deal, there's no way to know about hygiene, etc. I have to confess that when a known nose-picker brings in cookies that s/he proudly "helped" Mommy make, they come home with me and go straight into the trash. I wish they didn't go through the trouble - it makes me feel so bad to waste their generous effort - but I simply can't bring myself to enjoy them. I'm sure I'm not the only germophobic teacher out there!

Marla Walters's picture

Hi, Music Teacher -- good point, and check out my last sentence of post. Thanks for chiming in! Something to keep in mind . . .

Guest's picture

Hello! Teacher here. Nice post. Just discreetly check if your teacher is non-Christian before giving a Christmas ornament.

Most teachers I know hate the 10lb school bulge form incessant cupcakes and cookies- bad enough at school- don't want it at home. But that's easy enough to regift to the mailman, or a child.

The oddest suggestion is the "coupon" to volunteer in class or on trips. Not only would I feel incredibly awkward trying to redeem such a coupon (and would not)...isn't that what parents are supposed to do anyway? That is like the teacher giving you a coupon to give "one-on-one" help to your child with math difficulties after class. Above and beyond? Yes. Is it a personal gift from them to you? No. It's sort of expected, as should be occasional parent help. Saying it is a "gift" to the teacher, when it is in fact, a gift to your own child and his/her peers, is just weird.

The book "wish list" is also a nice idea on the surface, but I would prefer school budgets provide the books teachers can use to excel in the classroom. Again, it is really a gift to the district, and the children, not the person as an individual. I am betting that the "wish list" thing includes some admin to teacher pressure to sign up. A parallel? I am sure that no office worker wants to get a new clipboard or mousepad or any other office supply to do your job, from their boss, or a client as a year end thank you gift.

Frankly- I prefer no gifts. But the best gift I ever got was a small gift bag with a bottle of water, an apple, and a granola bar. I forgot my lunch that day!

The best ideas, by far, on this list are the frozen ravioli, coffee. Add in anything made by the student that has genuine sentiment included.

Marla Walters's picture

Hi, Kristine! Thanks for your comments and suggestions. As to the coupons: according to the climate of your child's school, that may or may not work. My interviewed teachers liked that one. As for the books, some schools (as in our district) are just so poorly funded that they are really welcome. Finally, it sounds like those commenting agree that the home-made touch (by the student) is very welcome.

I want to add: really glad to hear from you teachers out there, and thank you for doing what you do!

Guest's picture

Teacher here as well.
I have yet to be in a district (nine so far) that gives teachers enough books. I think the best presents I get are gift certificates for book stores.
I am with the home made things- sweet- but often get thrown away because I cannot be assured of origin:<(
I love things for the classroom- games for rainy days, bottles of non scented lotion for the kids and pencils. These are things I purchase myself. If a parent buys them- the kids and I both win!

Guest's picture

For me, the best gift from my students is a sincere thank-you card. Trinkets and clutter take up precious space, but a heartfelt note makes the job a bit more rewarding.

Guest's picture

I realize that this posting deals with Christmas gifting to teachers, but I feel compelled to make a comment. I've taught art for thirty years and have received many inappropriate donations over the years; old magazines with few photos, rancid paint, broken ceramic molds... the list goes on! Do some people think of art programs as dumpster alternatives?

I've always thanked the patron sincerely and later send a thank you note. (They don't know what they've given is wrong.) I usually take the items to the dumpster. (I dry out the paint before disposal.) I joke with my students that if they or their parents want to donate to the arts programs, just donate something that is green, can be folded and put in a pocket!

As far as gifts go, if you want to make me a happy camper, encourage your students to work hard, be creative, come to class prepared, and pay attention!

Guest's picture

The nicest things I have received from my students are notes that mentioned something specific I had done for them- a story I shared or an activity they enjoyed, for example. Those I keep in my forever file. As far as gifts, I love getting fruit. This sounds funny maybe, but a boy gave me a juicy red apple and I felt so much better that day after I ate it!

Guest's picture

I hated trinkets when I taught, too. Heartfelt notes/cards from students or parents were things I definitely treasured. Also, I loved to receive and love to give a little splurge the teacher can customize, like a $5 Starbucks card of $5 i-tunes card. It fits in most budgets, the teacher feels appreciated, and she can actually use it!

Guest's picture

A note to the principal expressing appreciation of the teacher. Principals pay attention to these and can be especially beneficial for new teachers. Let the teacher know and give him or her a copy of the note. Way better than more "stuff."

Guest's picture

We give the teacher a card with a book of stamps and a gift card. The gift cards are for either their favorite restaurant, Target, 7-11, or Walmart. My son writes what he loves about the teacher in the card.

Marla Walters's picture

A lot of great ideas are being added to this list! Thanks, all!

Guest's picture

I think you forgot one of the best...a note, hand-written by the child, telling the teacher 'thank you.' Always appreciated.

Guest's picture

I have to comment on the thing about not having pictures of your clients. First of all children are not clients they are children that these teachers are helping to mold into adults and personally I wouldn't want a teacher that wouldn't appreciate something with a picture! That is whats wrong with schools these days are those teachers that think of the children in that manner. I thank god that so far I have had amazing teachers. Most of which I still have a relationship with.

Guest's picture

I am so glad yo said that! I was feeling really stupid for a minute there for giving picture frames that my daughter decorated herself last year for a gift. I was a per-school teacher & Loved picture gifts!!

Guest's picture

Lovely list! Since almost half your suggestions are food, it would probably be a good idea to remind your readers to double-check with their District or school to find out if teachers are allowed to accept food items. Both my parents were teachers and enjoyed many food gifts, but sadly times have changed, and in a survey we did of 300+ teachers the majority either did not allow food (due to food safety issues), or preferred not to receive it (due to diet restrictions). You can see the poll results here: http://christmasgiftsforteachers.com/gift-preferences-poll

Marla Walters's picture

Emily, thank you for that link to the poll - very helpful. Also, another teacher just gave me a verbal request: Hand-sanitizer and boxes of tissues. Practical!