The Top 5 Teacher Gift Mistakes to Avoid

When it’s time to pick out a teacher gift, do you ever have trouble deciding what to give? How do you adequately honor the person who spends hours educating and caring for your child each day?

Teachers I have talked to don’t seem to expect anything, and they appreciate any gesture a parent makes to recognize them during Teacher Appreciation Week, the holiday season, or the end of the school year. But when I asked them what they really did and did not want to receive as teacher gifts, they were not shy about speaking up, and certain patterns became very clear!

Before you solidify your choices for your next round of teacher gifts, consult this list of mistakes you want to avoid. Your children’s teachers will thank you.

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Mistake #1: Use your teacher gift to self-promote

If you choose a product or service from your own business as a teacher gift, be sure it doesn’t come across as self-promoting. Attaching a business card or catalog to a product you sell, for example, may make the teacher feel as though you are soliciting her business or making a sales pitch, rather than giving a gift. If instead of a product, you opt to give a coupon or gift certificate, the teacher may feel awkward about being expected to make a purchase from you.

Instead, choose a product or service that is either practical or in line with the teacher’s taste. Make it a tangible gift or the full cost of a service rather than expecting the teacher to have to pay. Give the gift without any business card attached, and make sure not to follow up about the business. Many teachers would be glad to receive a gift with no strings attached as long as they were not “badgered” to buy later.

Teacher Gift Mistake #2: Pick out a generic teacher gift

You may be tempted to go for a teacher gift you imagine would be a people-pleaser. Who wouldn’t want candles or lotion? The problem here is that when everyone has the same idea, teachers end up with piles of candles and lotion. Besides, it’s hard to know individual teachers’ tastes or sensitivities when it comes to scents. Teachers also get plenty of mugs and Christmas ornaments as gifts, perhaps inscribed with some variation of “World’s Best Teacher.” (If you want to go this route anyway, check these out. They’re all available with Amazon Prime, and I even saw a trophy in there.) There is only so much room in a teacher’s house, and I have heard spouses might send the next batch of trinkets directly to the donation bin.

Instead of picking up a generic teacher gift, consider having your child make a handmade gift. One teacher says a favorite gift was “a homemade gift using crayons to spell my last initial. It was framed and I still have it at home. Reminds me of the student all the time.” My daughter made her kindergarten teacher a book with pictures of all her favorite schoolyear memories. Teachers appreciate the personal touch, and it can be especially meaningful if the student is the one who makes the gift. Aside from homemade gifts, you could simply learn something about the teacher from your child and choose a gift based on his interests or personal tastes.

Mistake #3: Shy away from practical teacher gifts

Although it may seem more exciting to pick out a fun or novel gift, teachers are very excited to receive something practical. They often need to purchase supplies for their classrooms out of their own pocket, so nice supplies or items for their classrooms will likely be appreciated. When a mom asked one teacher what she really wanted as a gift, the teacher asked her to send out an email wish list with the supplies she needed for her classroom. The mom collected the items and made a gift basket filled with markers, hand sanitizer, Clorox wipes, dish soap, some craft supplies, little prize box toys, and hand-me-down lamps.

Other teachers mentioned the value of:

Mistake #4: Pass up the gift card

If you feel like a gift card is too boring, think again. Over and over again, gift cards have been touted as the most appreciated of teacher gifts! Teachers can use gift cards to take care of personal expenses, treat themselves to some self-care, or pick out needed items for their classrooms. Give a gift card for:

  • a favorite local restaurant or coffee shop
  • a gas station (especially if you know the teacher has a long commute)
  • a retailer that carries a wide variety of products such as Target or Amazon (this one is a bookmark!)
  • a bookstore
  • Starbucks (they come in multipacks if you have lots of teachers to recognize)
  • a teaching supply store such as Lakeshore
  • a grocery store (instead of sending in homemade food or a box of chocolates)
  • Teachers Pay Teachers so they can purchase new resources for their classrooms

Mistake #5: Forget to write a note to the teacher

Although teachers appreciate gifts, what seems to really touch and mean the most to them are handwritten notes. They save them all as tangible reminders of their students and evidence of the good they are doing through their work. Take the time to write a note yourself to show your appreciation for what the teacher has done, and have your child do the same. Being specific can be particularly meaningful. One teacher received a note thanking him for repeating the vocab words slowly as he wrote them on the board. He did not realize the student had dyslexia, and this simple tactic helped her all year. He may never have known if she hadn’t written a note!

Of course, one of the greatest gifts you can give your teacher is being supportive of your student, the school, and the class during the year. You can volunteer your time, donate supplies, work with your child at home, pay attention to all the teachers’ notes and deadlines, and just overall be an active partner in your child’s education. That will likely mean more than anything you send in for Teacher Appreciation Week, the end of the school year, or the holidays.

For more do’s and don’ts of teacher gifts, read this great list from The Measured Mom.

Read Next:

10 Perfect Gifts to Make Life Easier for Mom

12 Tips for Achieving Work-Life Balance as a Working Mom

14 Secrets to Making Parenting Less Stressful

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  1. As a teacher, may I add, don’t give homemade baked goods…most teachers steer away from these and the end up in the garbage or the teachers lounge as a giveaway.

    Teachers do love to get classroom supplies, especially games, colorful white board markers, and a gift card to the local Teacher Store will be sure to make them smile!

    1. Omg, a gift certificate to their services?! Awkward. Even if they were a masseuse. Haha! So tacky. I agree that gift cards are where it’s at. I have gotten to know my stepson’s teachers pretty well and I know they love wine so I always try to write them a note and give a top shelf goodie.

  2. These are some excellent ideas for making sure that you hit a home run with your teacher gift selection. My favorite thing to receive when I taught were gift cards. Literally, there were weeks, it helped pay for groceries. I always focus on gifts that will let my favorite teachers pamper themselves a bit. Everyone needs some self-care every once and awhile. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Great article! I have several friends who are teachers and they complain all the time about the terrible gifts they get. It’s nice to be reminded what not to get them : )

  4. These are such great tips! It’s always hard to come up with a great teacher gift. Your kids’ teachers are with them for the majority of the day each day, so you want something that shows you’re appreciation, but also something useful! This post is a great resource for parents looking for gift ideas!!

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