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Teacher Approved Gift Ideas: From the Wife of a Nashville Teacher

Alright – let me preface this with a little tiny disclaimer. I know there can be some disagreement as to whether teacher gifts should be a thing (they’re already getting paid to be here!) but that being said… there are certain times of the year that we like to honor, celebrate, and spread good cheer to those around us. Especially when “those around us” means our children’s teachers. For our children’s teachers (and I’m talking about K-12 teachers, to be clear, but some of this could be applicable for nannies, daycare, and preschool teachers too), that is often at the beginning and end of the school years and around Christmas/winter break.

My husband is a middle school science teacher in Nashville. He has taught at two different schools over the past five school years, and each year I have been absolutely shocked at the loot he brings home around Christmas and at the end of the school year. Say what you will about “public school” kids here, but he has taught some very kind students whose families have been able to honor him in small (and large) ways. I don’t think most men would put it this way, but he has been truly touched by gifts he has received–sentimental, practical, and yes… extravagant. While he certainly does not expect ANYTHING from his students, he appreciates anything regardless of what it is. The old saying is true… it is the thought that counts and I hope that is the tone reflected in this blog post. 

Teacher gifts can be tricky! But here are three gift ideas approved by the wife of a local teacher. A gift doesn't have to cost a dime to be thoughtful!

So, without further ado, this is a short list of teacher approved gift ideas. By short, I mean three specific gifts for teachers… and a little bit about “risky gifts” where you should know your audience.

Teacher Approved Gift #1: Notes

If you do not have a dime to spend on teacher gifts, hear this loud and clear. Your child’s teacher does not care! (And if they do, shame on them.) But you can still share your appreciation by writing a short, heart-felt note. Depending on your child’s age, maybe they can participate. Even if they don’t want to (read: teenage awkwardness), you can still do this.

Write a note for your child to pass along, or mail it to the school. Or, just send an email! Expressing your thanks for their hard work will go a long way. If you are a little more connected to this teacher or know your child is, mention the growth or positive change you have observed in your child as a result of the teacher’s influence. This could be especially meaningful for middle school and high school teachers who don’t have quite as much positive contact with parents as lower grade teachers do. And, if your child has six teachers… email is an easy way to share the love quickly, efficiently, but still in a meaningful manner. Everyone loves positive feedback, and teachers are no exception! 

No matter the format, these notes can be saved and pulled out on a hard day as a reminder that they do make a difference. 

Teacher Approved Gift #2: Classroom Supplies

The end of first semester is drawing near. Is your child’s backpack looking a little ragged? How about his notebooks? So are the supply shelves in your child’s classroom, and their teacher is anything like my husband, their school budget is probably exhausted or close to it. I’m not saying this as a political statement, though I could go there… but teachers always appreciate things for their classroom. And those sort of tangible teacher gifts will benefit your child! 

Supplies like Expo dry erase markers, Paper Mate Flair pens, Ticonderoga pencils, Elmer’s glue, and Crayola crayons all get a side eye when they are on school supply lists because “we use generic at home! Why do teachers need NAME BRANDS?” Well, because they work better and they help the teachers do their jobs better. And, oh yeah, help your child learn better too. But things run out and dry up and disappear (not even because students are bad… think of your lost socks at home). So help your teacher restock their classroom with those heavily requested items, or reach out to them and ask if there are projects they are trying to do in the spring or a list of books they want to add to their classroom library. Most teachers probably have a running wish list and can readily give you ideas. 

Consumable supplies like hand sanitizer, tissues, paper towels, disinfectant wipes/spray, etc. are also usually welcomed. Sure, that’s not exciting… but it is exciting that the teacher doesn’t have to buy those things out of their own pocket so the kids in their classroom can stay relatively healthy and clean. Or, if you know your child’s teacher gives little prizes (candy, fun pencils, stickers, etc.) as rewards–buy some things to add to their stash. 

Teacher Approved Gift #3: Gift Cards

You had to know I was heading here, right? Gift cards are not a personal gift for teachers BUT I don’t know a single person who wouldn’t like one! Generic gift cards like Amazon, Target, and Kroger can be used to help your teacher stock their classroom essentials or splurge on something on their classroom wish list. If you wanted to go a more personal route, get a Starbucks or Dunkin’ gift card for the coffee loving teacher, or a Whole Foods gift card for the teacher who loves to cook, or a Sonic gift card for the teacher with the ice cream addiction. Your child probably knows more about their teacher’s likes/dislikes than you realize, and may have a good idea! Do a search on Pinterest for “teacher gift card ideas” for creative ways to present the gift card, if you’re into that. 

Oh, and gift cards don’t have to be for large amounts either. My husband has received gift cards of varying amounts… even just $5! That’s one fancy drink at Starbucks, or a few supplies for a project. It all adds up.

One other idea for gifts cards is to consider the proximity to your child’s school–is there a local coffee shop your teacher might be able to frequent for after school grading? Or a restaurant teachers might visit on their professional development days when they can leave campus for lunch? Or even just a fast food place nearby where the teacher might stop in on days they have to stay late due to school activities. I’m all for eating local so I really like this idea and want to use it for my son’s teachers in the future.

Risky Gifts… Know Your Teacher

While I won’t ban the giving of the following items, it is definitely a “know your teacher”/be thoughtful scenario. Read on to learn more!

Mugs. Education-Themed Items. Candles, Lotions, or Scented Items. 

These sort of things are tricky. While the thought DOES count, practically speaking you don’t want to spend money on something a teacher has a zillion of (coffee mugs! “world’s best teacher” paraphernalia!) or things a teacher can’t/won’t use due to allergies/preferences (lotions! candles! anything scented!). The caveat here is to be thoughtful and consider the person you are buying a gift for, as best you can. Most of the time, we only know teachers in a certain context. We can extrapolate about their personal life but lots of times, we don’t know them in that context very well so that’s why these sort of gifts can be hard. If they always use a specific type of lotion, buy some for them to keep at school. If they have a collection of science coffee mugs, add to it! If you genuinely think they would like something, or your child does… then it can be just fine to honor that–but tell them so in an enclosed note so they don’t think you picked up a generic teacher mug without any thought. Otherwise (my opinion!!) what’s the point? 


Coming from a baker and a person who thinks giving food is a great thing… beware! Giving food (especially homemade goodies) can seem thoughtful and a more frugal alternative to many people but depending on the context can be tricky due to allergies, preferences, and the sheer amount that teachers can receive at times. I remember cringing when I brought in doughnuts to my son’s infant teachers at daycare at the end of the year. They had a whole table of snacks and goodies, and there was NO WAY those two ladies could have eaten all that food themselves. They thanked me profusely, but I still felt that my gift was a little wasteful. 

My husband at times has gotten way more homemade goodies than he could possibly consume, even with his family helping him. Baked goods can be great, but what if 20 other kids also bring in a cookie plate (or a pie/cake/doughnuts/etc.) the day before Christmas break begins?

If you can go alternate route, do so. Package cookies in a freezer bag and include a note about that. Make a savory snack mix to cut in with all the expected sweet treats of the season. 

Or consider alternate food items, like prepackaged snacks with a bit of a shelf life. These can be saved for later. Beverages can also be a good choice–a bag of coffee, K-Cups, tea bags, hot chocolate mix, even bottled drinks like water, LaCroix, or soda. Teachers love to have this stuff on hand in their classroom for long days.

Anything Personalized

The internet abounds with personalized crafts you can make or buy. And personalized things (with your teacher’s name/grade/subject etc.) can be SO sweet. But do your best to make sure your teacher doesn’t have one already, or seems to have room to place it in their classroom. I’m not saying that you need to ask for gift approval, but I am saying to not spend 20 hours making a personalized wooden sign for their desk when they already have several. This can be hard when the teacher is seasoned and seems to have a lot already, but think outside the box. Maybe a personalized picture frame with “Mrs. Smith’s 2018-2019 4th grade class” would be just the ticket, while a sign to hang on her door would be overkill. Presumably, if you’re wanting to go the personalized route, you have a reason to do that, but again, just be thoughtful.

Please know that your mileage may vary for this. Know your teacher, and follow your heart! A gift given from the heart is always the best. Read this post for more teacher-approved gift ideas!

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