We have a long-standing tradition here in the United States (and perhaps worldwide) of giving our teachers thank-you gifts. And it is certainly fitting. Teachers spend an enormous amount of time instructing and molding our students, not to mention taking care of their social and emotional well-being, tying their shoes, wiping their noses, providing necessary supplies, and so much more! If anyone deserves a thank-you, it’s teachers!
I’m not sure how the tradition of giving an apple as a thank-you evolved, but that has been a typical gift that still shows up on teachers’ desks to this day, along with candy, coffee and mugs, cards and notes, and gift cards.
Of course, some parents get creative and go the non-traditional route. I’ve heard about gifts of wine, tickets to favorite shows or to a movie theater, relaxation/bath products, and other thoughtful and imaginative gifts. When my siblings and I were young, every Christmas season, my mom would break out the giant gingerbread man and woman cookie cutters and we’d bake and decorate cookies to look like our teachers. Some of us were better than others at making our cookie teachers, but regardless, the teachers always loved them! My eighth-grade year, the school had to deal with several rounds of lice infestations (small school). My parents were friends with the principal, so Mom decided to make her a giant gingerbread louse that year. She laughed, but I would NOT recommend that as a thank-you gift!
What Teachers Want
We wanted to know which gifts are teachers’ favorites, so we went right to the source – The Ambassador Group (TAG) for Pitsco. We asked them what they’re grateful for this year as well as for the best thank-you they’ve received. As always, they provided some great answers.
What they’re grateful for:
- I’m most thankful to have the easiest schedule I’ve ever had in that it is the same every day (I’m used to having an “a” and “b” day). I’m also thankful that I’m randomly getting two new 3-D printers that can print up to 500 mm x 500 mm x 500 mm – twice what we can currently print. – Jim Brown, Sand Creek Middle School, Albany, NY
- I’m thankful for family and friends and that most of my family and friends are well and still with us. I think that the pandemic has been a huge reminder of how important family/friends are to us and that we need to cherish each and every moment that we have together (and I include my Pitsco “family,” too)! Overall, I’m still thankful to be working and for family/friends! – James Jones, Wedgefield School, Orlando, FL
- I’m extremely grateful for my friends and family. Having a 20-month old at home keeps life fun and exciting! We’re experiencing new adventures every day with her, and they’re the experiences I thank the Lord for every night! – Natalie Vanderbeck, George Nettels Elementary, Pittsburg, KS
- I’m so very thankful for my children – they are by far my greatest adventure in life! I’m also thankful for my students, past and present. They’re all such a joy to have in class and make my “job” so enjoyable. – Keri Litewski, USD 469, Lansing, KS
- I’m most thankful that my family has remained somewhat well throughout this pandemic. I’m most thankful that this year, holidays will seem to be back to normal and that we’ll get to once again all be back together. – Jessica Malloy, STEM curriculum specialist, Allen, TX
- I’m definitely thankful to be back in person and to have life back in the classroom – it’s made a huge difference! – Everton Henriques, Staten Island Technical High School, Staten Island, NY
- I’m most thankful that my family is healthy! It’s been such a crazy time and I’m very grateful for our health! I’m also thankful for a job, coworkers, and school that I love! – Chris Gibson, S.F. Austin STEM Academy, Jones Creek, TX
- I’m thankful for the good health of my family, students, and fellow teachers. We’re all working to keep ourselves healthy. – Jill McClain, Bryant Ranch Elementary, Yorba Linda, CA
- This has been the hardest season of my life with the loss of my mother, grandmother, and aunt. Each day that I wake up is a struggle to be thankful, but I’m reminded that all things have a time and place. – Lisa Lewis, Lafayette Upper Elementary, Fredericksburg, VA
- I’m most thankful for a healthy family, a career I love to get up and go to, and my wife’s new position as a school-based counselor (and the two paychecks we’ll now have instead of one!). – Joe Slifka, LaBrae Local School District, Leavittsburg, OH
- I’m thankful that my students and family are healthy and happy this year. – Emma Smith, Broadway, Elementary, Broadway, NC
Best thank-yous they’ve received:
- The best thank-you I received was from a former student who wrote me a letter thanking me for pushing him to do his best. He cited one moment in particular that was a turning point for him that he said, “made me realize I can do anything I put my mind to.” He’s now a news producer for a major network station. – Jim Brown
- The best thank-yous I ever got were when I’d run into a former student that is doing well and succeeding in life. This happened recently when a student came up to me and told me he’d been in my HS robotics courses. He went on to tell me how well he was doing and that he had a job with a tech company and, on the side, he tested the breakability of different products. He went on to say how great it was to see me and I told him how happy I was to see him so successful. While he did not directly thank me, I recalled how he’d been placed in my classes as he’d been having some difficulties at school. He was bright but also a handful. He quickly grew to like my class and got involved with the projects. He continued to do great in my courses and graduated from high school and college. The mere fact that he saw me and came to me so he could tell me how he was doing was the biggest thank-you that I could ever receive. His success was my success. He went from a student who needed direction to an adult who has careers and was happy in them. To me, that is the thank-you I’d want from all of my students. – James Jones
- During my second year of teaching, I had a student whose mother passed away in a car accident. Her mom was a single parent, so the student had to move to live with her father in another state. Unfortunately, this happened around Christmas time. I work with an amazing staff! When they heard about the accident, my colleagues pulled together and I was able to go Christmas shopping for my student and her younger sister. We spent close to $1,000 on the girls! It was the best feeling to see their smiling faces after such a tremendous tragedy. In years to come, the student found me on social media and routinely reached out. She’d call or text me to tell me about her school and life. She may not have said thank-you, but, by reaching out, she gave me the best thanks possible! – Natalie Vanderbeck
- The best thank-you I ever received was a card from a parent whose child I had in class for three years. It was so eloquent and thoughtful! – Keri Litewski
- The best thank-you I’ve ever received came from a parent of a student that I had in my class. She was really struggling with him and he was very depressed. I took an interest in everything he did. I took him to do things on the weekend and attended family gatherings they had. At the time, I didn’t know if what I did made that big of a difference, but he started to come out of his shell a little. When he graduated high school, he wrote me a letter in which he talked about how I made such a difference by seeing him and making him feel like someone who didn’t have to care about him did. It was a letter I will always cherish. – Jessica Malloy
- I’ve received a lot of cool thank-you gifts over the years, but the school-related one that stands out the most was the result of me pushing the limits and joking around with one of my close kids. A student asked what I wanted for an end-of-year thank-you gift and I told him a bottle of Amarone, with the vintage being the year of my birth. The father showed up with a bottle of 1981 Bertani Amarone the very next day. Mind blown. – Everton Henriques
- The best thank-you that I’ve ever received was probably from my own children, now that they’re grown and appreciate me! They are the best! – Chris Gibson
- My best thank-yous are letters I receive each year from graduating seniors. One of the language arts teachers at the high school asks students to write a letter to a teacher who made an impact in their education. I love when I receive a letter and the student mentions all the projects and hands-on activities they did as a fourth grader. This makes my heart sing! – Jill McClain
- The best thank-you that I received was a letter from my son thanking me for being a great mom. His letter showed that he understood my position on things when his dad was deployed and I had two kids to look after by myself. . . . He mentioned that he appreciated me taking time to bake and cook meals instead of ordering pizza, which would have been easy. He thanked me for taking his track team to practice and not fussing too much when they got into the van all smelly and gross. (I miss those days as you learn so much when they think you are not listening.) He apologized for not always doing what was asked the first time and for not asking if he could help out more. . . . My son is 20 now and the letter was written when he was 16, so it meant the world to me as that is the age when kids don’t always see their parents in the best light. – Lisa Lewis
- The best thank-you I’ve received probably comes from a night we went out to eat and a former student was working at the restaurant. He approached me, shook my hand, and told me that he’s the man he is today because of my class and thanked me for teaching him about more than just science. – Joe Slifka
- The best thank-you I received was from a former student. This student was labeled as annoying and difficult by other teachers. A few years later, he sent me a heartfelt email expressing how I was the only teacher who ever believed in him and made him happy to come to school. It touched my heart, not because I did anything different with this student, but that I was able to be the person he needed during that time of his life. – Emma Smith
Want to give the perfect thank-you gift? Just KISS!
Of course I’m not suggesting you (or your child) go around kissing teachers, especially with COVID still hanging around! But, if you want a great way to remember gift giving for teachers, just remember KISS. My high school algebra teacher, trying to help those of us with math anxiety (and bring some levity to the classroom), would tell us KISS stood for “Keep It Simple, Stupid.” And, while that always made me laugh, for teachers’ gifts, I much prefer to use “Keep It Simple and Sweet.”
As you can tell from the TAG comments above, the best gifts and thank-yous don’t have to be elaborate. The thank-yous teachers value the most, by and large, are those that are heartfelt and personal. Here are a few easy ways to make teachers feel appreciated:
- Get to know your child’s teachers: What do they like? What is their favorite color? Their favorite show, movie, song, or treat? Then, create simple gifts to match. Add a nice note, and you’re good to go!
- Ask your child what they like about their teacher or teachers and have him or her write a note thanking the teacher(s).
- Visit or write a thank-you note to one or more of your former teachers, letting them know how much you appreciate their hard work and sacrifice.