Welcome to another public service provided by Midwest Mom! Inspired again by Swistle, I am about to write an entire post about gifts for teachers. Feel free to jump ship now if you are not interested in this topic. I will also say up front that there will not even be any pictures of Harper in this post. Harper stories/photos will return in the next post, I promise.
Having been a classroom teacher for four years, and having many teacher-friends, I feel highly qualified to address this topic. In my short career I have received gifts ranging in value from $2 to $100 (no kidding, totally unnecessary, but fun!). The value of the gift really isn't important, but here are some helpful (I hope) guidelines for end-of-the-year (or holiday) gifting for teachers:
1) Step away from the apples. Seriously. The possible exception to this would be in the case of a new teacher who has yet to be showered in apple-themed nonsense. Unless the teacher is a self-proclaimed apple enthusiast, it really isn't necessary.
2) Consumable is good. Teachers, like most of us, already have a lot of stuff. You might want to steer clear of anything that will take up shelf-space. Again, unless you know the teacher's decor and tastes really well, avoid anything non-consumable that needs to be displayed in the teacher's home.
3) Gift cards are easy, available in any amount, and can be purchased from a variety of stores. Especially at book stores, coffee shops, ice cream, and video stores, a little can go a long way. $5 is a movie-rental or a really nice cup of coffee, even most of a paperback! If you can/want to spend a little more try the mall, restaurant, movie theater, or store like Target or Kohls. A local spa gift certificate might be nice too, but that's not everyone's cup of tea. Want your money to go back into the classroom? Send a gift certificate to a teacher-supply store. You might not realize it, but there's probably one near you.
4) Candles, lotion, scented soaps, etc. are not a bad idea. If you are going to go that route I suggest getting them from a decent place (do you want the seven piece cherry-scented "spa" set on clearance for $4.50?) and possibly include a gift receipt. I know someone who loves vanilla anything - lotion, candles, etc. Vanilla seems like a mild enough scent, right? But to me too much vanilla makes me feel like a cookie factory threw up nearby. I'm not trying to offend the vanilla-lovers, I'm just saying that scent is a pretty personal thing. I always loved receiving gifts from Bath and Body Works because I use their stuff and because you can take any unused product back and exchange it like it's a gift certificate. I have never had trouble exchanging items their store.
5) I always thought notepads (of the non-apple variety!) and note cards were good gifts, especially for elementary school teachers. I went through both like crazy sending notes home, to other teachers, writing thank-yous etc. If you don't get school-themed ones then the teacher can use them at home as well. You can also have your kids decorate note cards by folding unlined, 5x7 index cards in half, and buying similarly-sized envelopes from an office store. Have your child decorate the front of each card, pair each with an envelope, and tie a ribbon around a set of eight or ten.
6) Beware of baked goods. I know homemade goodies seem like a good idea; thoughtful and lots of work can go into them. Having said that, I know several people who will not eat food that came out of kitchens they are unfamiliar with. Or people are just picky eaters. Baking for your teachers might not be a good use of your time. About half the teachers I knew happily ate goodies brought in by the kids; the other half gave them away or threw them away. (Go ahead, gasp in horror.) I'm just saying, do you want to put the time in if someone's not going to eat it? Now if you've given your teacher baked goods in the past and they have come back to you raving about your cookies/cake/brownies/bread/pie and asking for your recipe? You may commence baking.
7) Gifts the the whole class worked together on can be nice if you have an uber-parent to do all the organizing. It can either be one big item that the kids helped personalized (a friend of mine received a rocking chair from her class one year, decorated with the kids' thumb prints), or a collection of letters or a drawing from each child, bound together in a little scrapbook. I think these kinds of gifts do require a little better knowledge of the teacher though. . .
8) Classroom supplies can also be a tricky area. If you know that the teacher has been buying items with personal money, then go for it. However, depending on your school, a lot of that might be provided already and not actually be coming from the teacher. Stickers or stamps are nice little gifts for most elementary classrooms.
Some of you are probably thinking, "Teacher gifts? Don't we pay them?" Well I will not go into that debate here, but the truth is you don't have to give teachers gifts at the end of the year. You also don't have to tip the person who cuts your hair. It's a personal decision. Each school culture is a little different this way, and if you aren't sure (and you care) about what is typically done, ask another parent.
An end-of-the-year gift is just a way to let your child's teacher know you appreciate the fact that she (or he) spent a huge part of each day caring for your child, worrying about your child, and generally working her butt off to provide twenty or more kids with a safe and successful educational experience!
Having said that, a genuine thank you from you, your child, or both of you is just as nice as any other gift. Everyone likes to be acknowledged for a job well-done. If you appreciate the things your child's teacher has done throughout the year, just tell her. It's nice if you tell her principal, too. I have saved all the thoughtful notes I've received from parents and children. When I was still teaching it was great to have a box of them to pull out when I was having a bad day.
Some of the best teacher gifts I received were:
-A huge outdoor pot that all the children in a class had put their hand prints on, full of geraniums ready to be planted, and a gift-certificate to a local garden center. (That was from an entire class.)
-A giant popcorn bowl filled with packages of microwave popcorn and a gift card to a video store.
-A really sturdy canvas tote bag with the children's hand prints and names on it; I received that from the second graders I did my student teaching with and I've been using it for nearly eight years.
-Notes from kids or parents who thanked me for specific things I'd done throughout the year.
I've received many nice gifts over the years, but those are sticking out in my mind right now.
Another quick note, if you do give a gift card to a book store or someplace like Target, it would be easy for the teacher to spend it entirely on items for school. If you intend for her to make more personal use of it, don't be afraid to tell her. I once received an embarrassingly generous gift card to a local book store and I used 75% of it for classroom books because I felt funny spending it all on myself.
There you have it, Midwest Mom's guide to teacher gift-giving! You may now return to your regularly scheduled programming.