Holidays, The Easy Way: Taking the stress, obligation & anxiety out of teacher gifts

Teacher Gift I have a scattered track record when it comes to teacher gifts. It’s not that I don’t appreciate the hard work educators put into teaching and caring for my children all day. It’s more that I have traditionally had a bad habit of over-thinking their gifts, then realizing too late that there’s no way I can pull off my grand plans in time.

For example, a few years ago my sister-in-law Jenna and I and all our kids made homemade vanilla extract for their teachers, plus the school secretary and a few other special people. It was a lovely gift. It was also time-consuming and expensive! As much as I’d hoped to make vanilla a yearly tradition, I have had to accept that most years, what we have to offer will be a lot more modest.

teacher gifts

There’s so much pressure to prove ourselves as good parents and thoughtful people by giving great teacher gifts this time of year, but with everything else we’ve got going on, it can just be too much! Here are some ideas to keep teacher gifts from stressing you out:

Keep in mind why you’re giving the gift. Yes, teacher gifts have become so standard that it’s easy to feel as though they’re necessary for good parenting. But teacher gifts should be a token of appreciation and something that you and your child enjoy giving – not a way to prove yourself to the teacher or out-do the other parents. Looking at them as a token of appreciation instead of a way to earn a “good parent” badge can take a lot of the pressure off.

“Budget” a specific amount of time for making or buying gifts. Teacher gifts are one of those things that can loom over your head throughout the entire month if you let them. So this year, I told myself I wasn’t going to worry about teacher’s gifts at all until the last two days of school before break – and that’s exactly what I did. I started thinking about it yesterday, and I’m pulling the gifts together tonight. Giving myself a limited amount of time to work on them eliminated all temptation to go overboard.

Give something that makes you happy. Every year, I run across articles detailing which kinds of gifts teachers like and which they’d rather not get. And from helping my mother-in-law, who taught elementary school for three decades, clean out her basement I can tell you in all honesty that those “#1 Teacher!” mugs, ornaments, and pins are very likely to become clutter. Still, at some point a list of rules about what gifts I should or shouldn’t give just starts to feel stifling and takes all the fun out of the process. For example, every “teacher gift guide” I’ve read insists that a gift card is a safe and much-appreciated gift choice. That is probably true, but I dislike giving gift cards: to me, it’s like handing somebody cash and then telling them they can only spend it in one place. Useful, yes, but for me, not very satisfying to give.

Plus, all teachers are different. I’ve read articles insisting that teachers get too many baked goods and other treats during the holidays, but the teachers I talk to all seem to love them. And I’m guessing there are some teachers out there who love trinkets with apples on them, too. Bottom line: you probably don’t know the teachers well enough to know all of their preferences, so choose a gift that’s pleasurable for you to give.

Remember that teacher gifts don’t have to cost a lot. In fact, they don’t have to cost anything at all. My SIL Jenna, who teaches the eighth grade, told me that her very favorite gifts are heartfelt notes of appreciation or anything the child made him or herself: “I love any gift that a student gives me when they seem proud of it, or are waiting to see my response.  I also like getting food treats – even the ones that kids tell me they made themselves and look too nasty to eat.”

If you’re trying to put together a last-minute teacher gift (like I am!) why not consider letting your child write (or dictate) a letter of thanks? You can give it with cookies, a craft, or just by itself. If you have an older child, you can even turn the gift-giving over to him or her and mark it off your to-do list. I’m guessing a lot of teachers would rather get a gift that comes from the child than one the parent picked out.

Keep in mind that there will be many more opportunities to show appreciation. If for any reason you can’t pull off a teacher gift before Christmas, don’t get down on yourself or feel guilty. This is not your last chance to give or to acknowledge your child’s teacher. You can send a New Year’s card when your child returns to school, write a nice email wishing the teacher happy holidays, or give her a gift at the end of the year or at any holiday in between.

Whether you give an elaborate gift or sit this year out entirely, keep in mind what you’re already doing: a bang-up job raising your children. And as far as I’m concerned, happy, respectful kids are probably the best teacher gift any parent can give.

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