A Warning About Gifts for Teachers: READ THIS Before You Buy! - Teaching Traveling (2024)

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“Which holiday gifts should I get for my child’s teachers?”

“What is the best teacher appreciation gift, or end of year present?”

“How can I show our school’s educators that I am thankful for their hard work?”

The answer to these questions is not what most people think. I’ve been a teacher for 17 years, and I urge you read the following thoughts before popping your gifts into a teacher’s hands. First and foremost:


Yes, we DO want to be appreciated (and I’ll talk more about ways to do that effectively in a moment), but… consider the following issues with educator gift-giving.

A Warning About Gifts for Teachers: READ THIS Before You Buy! - Teaching Traveling (1)

1. Gifts raise ethical and fairness concerns.

Legally, most public school teachers are not allowed to accept gifts worth more than $50, but even if a family gives me a $5 gift, I think about the time and labor that went into it… and frankly, feel uncomfortable.

First, I feel uncomfortable because I empathize with the financial and time stress that gifts incur (even “inexpensive” ones). I never want to be a cause of extra stress, and being a parent myself, I know that the organizational effort to buy or create presents is not small.

Second, there is an awkward question of whether expectations are attached to the gift in terms of altered treatment. Now, I’m sure most families have no intention of bribing a teacher through cookies and mugs, but there are still strange feelings that arise — especially when I receive mid-year gifts while I’m still grading essays. I would never alter my grades based on gifts, but I do have the thought, “How must it feel for a mother to see a ‘D’ given by a teacher to her son, after she spent hours wrapping gifts?” It’s not an ideal combination.

2. Not everyone can afford gifts — either in money or time.

What I dislike most about gifts for teachers is the pressure they place on families who do not have the resources — be it in time or money — to keep up with the “gift giving arms race.” Anyone who is on a message board or social media group for a school can tell you that things get out of hand quickly when discussing educator presents.

Parent 1: “I’m thinking of getting Ms. X a $20 Target gift card. Do you think that’s enough?”

Parent 2: “Oh my gosh — are you all giving gifts to all the teachers?! I didn’t realize I was supposed to! Do we have to give them to the Guidance Counselors too??? I’d better run to the store!” And so on.

All of a sudden, the mother who is working three jobs is “forced” to squeeze in an extra trip to the store, and extra two hours of present organization in order to not “be rude” or “look bad.”

PLEASE, if you start feeling this pressure to give presents and are feeling terrible about it, STEP AWAY, AND DO NOT GIVE GIFTS. It is not worth it. More on alternatives later, but know that no teacher is going to hate you if you don’t give a gift. Presents are NOT required, nor expected, and in many cases they just cause problems.

3. Gifts often perpetuate sexism.

In my experience as a teacher and a parent, gift giving organization duties fall 99% of the time on the female head of household. Moreover, the time, money, and energy burden that falls on these women is not cheap.

As a teacher, I do not want to be part of the mental load thrust unfairly upon my fellow females in any way. I would much rather the women of the world get an extra two hours of sleep than shop for me — or better yet, help their children organize their backpacks!

4. There ARE things teachers need and want… but standard gifts usually aren’t it.

Are there items I would like to have? Sure, but for the most part I’d just prefer to buy them for myself. While I appreciate the sentiment of the gifts I’ve gotten from families in my two decades of teaching, the reality is that almost none of them fit in my life or home.

For example: I’m allergic to most lotions and rarely eat sugar, so any beauty products or sweets are just re-gifted, which feels odd. I have small cabinets at home, and there is no more room for mugs. I have a very minimalistic classroom and don’t like to shop at large chain stores, so most gift cards are unnecessary. Again, I would prefer that the mothers of the world spend those hours and dollars on something and someone who needs their efforts.

A Warning About Gifts for Teachers: READ THIS Before You Buy! - Teaching Traveling (2)

What are the BEST teacher gifts, then?

If most presents for teachers are problematic, then HOW do we show appreciation? Great question, and the solution is far easier than most realize — and far cheaper, too!

A. The #1 best teacher gift is a letter.

I don’t know any teacher in the world who doesn’t appreciate a note of appreciation that describes specific ways the educator has done well that year. If you’re hand writing the letter, the paper doesn’t even need to be fancy — plain paper works just as well as, if not better than, a glittery $8 card… and incurs less guilt about cost. Even simpler, email is ideal because it is fast, free (except for time), and the teacher can print it out if they want a tangible version.

What should you write about? The key is to use specific details. Tell a story of something your child said about the teacher, or highlight a major skill or idea they refined with your child, or a quirky and delightful aspect that your family enjoys about the class. Trust me — you will make the teacher’s day with a letter like this… and they will treasure it for years to come.

B. The other best gift is something the class or school as a whole actually needs.

If you want your gift to be 100% appreciated and embraced, reach out to the teacher or school and find out what they actually need. While I feel awkward about accepting personal gifts, I am ecstatic about helping our school as a whole to get items that will directly benefit students.

Here are some examples of great gifts that could come out of families asking for what a class or school needs, and providing it:

• A group of parents pool together donations to buy a printer for one ELA class, which will be used for years to come.

• An even bigger group of parents combine donations to build raised planters in the school playground, which generations of children can then use to learn about gardening.

• One family gifts a lovely $5 wall hanging, after brainstorming with the teacher about how to cover a cracking classroom wall. Another purchases a great young adult book for the class library to replace one that has gone missing.

• Another set of families pools funds to help a teacher set up an ergonomic sit-stand desk to address back pain. (Note: If purchasing something big like furniture, make sure to be in communication with the teacher or school about what actually fits, or opt for gift cards to cover it.)

• A generous set of neighbors arranges for meals and gift cards to be donated for students who very much need them that year. Others support a local BIPOC-owned company to buy educational toys holiday gifts for kids, or for classrooms.

My point: If you REALLY want to give a present (gift giving does make some people happy), I encourage you to reach out to the teacher or school to ask what they would actually find useful and nice.

For some teachers, a school supply store gift card for individual use is great, but for others, they would much rather the gift-givers interface directly with the school as a whole, and pool their efforts and do something truly impactful. Teachers can usually direct you to the administrator in charge of whole-school giving.

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Which gifts are best for preschool and daycare workers, or teachers not earning a solid wage?

Time for an important disclaimer: I am a public school teacher making a livable salary. THIS NOT THE CASE FOR MANY TEACHERS — particularly those in early childhood education, or those without union protections.

If you suspect that your child’s teacher is not making a living wage, by all means feel free to individually give them presents of gift cards, useful items, or even cash — if and only if you can afford it, yourself, and if the gifts fall within the ethics of the particular school. When in doubt, ask the teacher if they would be comfortable accepting a gift, or if there is a present which would be especially appreciated.

Gifts and “Love Languages

Wait, why are we suddenly talking about “love” in an article about teachers?! Don’t worry — the concept of “5 Love Languages” refers to the idea that people show and receive appreciation in varied rankings of five forms: Gifts, Acts of Service, Quality Time, Touch, and Words of Affirmation.

Everyone has different love language rankings, and this is vital to bear in mind when deciding if or how to give presents to teachers. In fact, people who rank “Receiving Gifts” low on their love language list may find presents downright stressful in ANY context, school-based or beyond.

The importance of individual love languages is two-fold: 1) When in doubt, ask the teacher (or other individual) what they want as a gift — and if they even want one at all. 2) Do not exhaust yourself buying gifts for someone who might actually feel more appreciated via another love language, such as “Words of Affirmation” — aka, a nice email.

Summary of this Teacher Gift Advice:

The most important message to take away from this article is that if you enjoy giving teachers gifts, great — do what feels good to you, keeping in mind what will be the most useful and fitting gift for the educator, their classroom, or the school. If giving presents brings you happiness, go right ahead!

However, if you are one of the 80% of humans who find gift giving stressful, I implore you to realize: YOU DO NOT HAVE TO GIVE TEACHERS GIFTS. It breaks my heart to see the anguish families feel each year around this topic. If you want to show appreciation to teachers, a letter will more than suffice.

There is no need to pour so much time and money into presents. So many other methods exist to show love to our world’s dear educators. Heck — you could even advocate for pro-education legislation and make systemic change.

What are YOUR opinions on presents for educators?

There’s my take on the teacher gift question, after 17 years as an educator and seven years as a parent. But what about YOU? If you’re a teacher, which gifts do you like and not like? If you’re a parent or guardian, what have you felt around gift giving and schools? If you’re an administrator, what would you like to see happen around gifting and education? Do share!

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Lillie Marshall

The author, Lillie Marshall, is a 6-foot-tall National Board Certified Teacher of English from Boston who has been a public school educator since 2003. She launched TeachingTraveling.com in 2010 to share expert global education resources, and over 1.6 million readers have visited over the past decade. Lillie also runs AroundTheWorld L.com Travel and Life Blog, and DrawingsOf.com for educational art. Do stay in touch via subscribing to her monthly newsletter, and following @WorldLillie on social media!

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A Warning About Gifts for Teachers: READ THIS Before You Buy! - Teaching Traveling (2024)


Is it inappropriate to give a teacher a gift? ›

School gifting culture varies, and sometimes, certain gifts are prohibited. “Public and private schools vary, and some items are considered attempts to influence grades, especially cash and gift cards used as cash,” says Schweitzer.

Is $50 too much for a teacher gift? ›

Legally, most public school teachers are not allowed to accept gifts worth more than $50, but even if a family gives me a $5 gift, I think about the time and labor that went into it… and frankly, feel uncomfortable.

Are students allowed to give teachers gifts? ›

Be sure to check with your school's handbook to find out the school policy on gifting. Some schools don't allow any financial gifts to faculty and staff. No family feels pressure to contribute (nor should they contribute any amount over $5).

Is it appropriate to buy a teacher a gift? ›

Key Takeaways. A holiday gift is great way to show your childs' teacher you appreciate them. It truly is the thought that counts, a homemade gift or a heartfelt card is just as good as something store bought. The decision is up to you and your family, there are many ways to show appreciation outside of a holiday gift.

What gifts should not be given to teachers? ›

The Worst Gifts You Could Buy For Teachers
  • Personalised items. Do not get them anything with your kids name or face on. ...
  • Homemade or handcrafted goodies. ...
  • Handmade goodies. ...
  • Candles. ...
  • Body and bath products. ...
  • Coffee mugs. ...
  • Anything that is marketed to shoppers as “Teacher Gifts” ...
  • Jewellery.

What is an appropriate gift card amount for a teacher? ›

Most teacher gift cards fall between $10 and $30, but there is no required amount for a gift card — we're sure they would appreciate any and every amount you want to give! There's no pressure for an amount. Choose an amount based on your budget.

Is a $25 gift card too cheap for teachers? ›

Price range for teacher gifts

“If your child has the teacher for just one period of the day, $10 to $20 is appropriate.” Melissa Verity Baral teaches kindergarten in Los Angeles and tells SheKnows that most parents give $25 to $50 gift cards.

Do teachers like cash gifts? ›

And more than any physical gift, teachers appreciate your support. Whew. OK. That being said, if you're insistent about giving gifts to the teachers you care about this holiday season, there is one gift I can guarantee every teacher is happy to receive and will definitely put to good use: cash.

Is a $10 gift card too cheap for teachers? ›

Choose an Amount Within Your Budget

It's not necessary. A $10 gift card can be just as special as a $50 gift card if you say the right words or pair the gift card with something meaningful.

Is a $25 gift card too cheap? ›

For co-workers, casual friends and your children's teachers, stay in the $10 to $20 range. Gift cards for close friends and family members can range from $25 to $100. When you're selecting a gift card for a spouse, parent or someone else who's very special, choose a card worth $75 or more.

Is it OK for a teacher to hug a student? ›

There are many policies in schools now that prohibit any type of touching between teacher and student. Colleges of education also warn future teachers of the pitfalls of hugging students. In contrast, some elementary schools encourage hugging students because it may be the only affection some students get daily.

Do teachers like gift cards? ›

l asked educators about their holiday wishes. Gift cards and school supplies topped the list, along with handwritten notes and other simple acts of appreciation.

How much is too much for a teacher gift? ›

Don't spend too much

A safe bet would be to keep your gift under $20, and public opinion is right around that same number. "A good rule of thumb is to spend around $20-$30," Lauren Grace, a high school math teacher by day and crafter at night wrote on her company blog, a business that sells accessories for teachers.

Can you give teachers expensive gifts? ›

The law prohibits gifts to public employees, not gifts to public agencies. You may give gifts to a public school, or a particular classroom, and the $50 limit does not apply. Your school district may have its own additional rules about gifts, which you should follow.

Do teachers like getting gifts from students? ›

Teachers really appreciate gift cards (along with handwritten notes). No surprise here. Think Amazon, Costco, Target or Staples. These allow teachers to buy what they want for their classroom or for personal use.

Is it ethical for teachers to accept gifts? ›

Conflict of Interest

A teacher who receives and accepts a valuable gift is possibly sending the tacit message to either the child or the parents that there will be special consideration given to the student. A token gift of something homemade or of little monetary value does not carry the same weight or implication.

Do we give gifts for teachers? ›

Every year a teacher dedicates to instilling knowledge and mentorship in new generations, it's a reason to celebrate. When the school you're connected with retains stellar educators, giving teachers gifts for work anniversaries provides many benefits.

Is it weird to give a teacher a gift card? ›

“When you have a lot of teachers, even a $5 Target or Amazon card is appreciated and adds up,” Clark tells SheKnows. “Gift cards are best unless you really know the teacher and what they like. Personalized stuff is cute, but it adds up fast.”

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