In pioneer America, schoolchildren sometimes brought an apple for the teacher. It was partly a sign of appreciation, but also a way of helping support the teacher. Teachers were often paid with room, board, and a minuscule amount of money. As apple trees became more common in the landscape*, this fruit—which could be stored for long periods and still be enjoyed—was a popular item to share. Teachers also might have received a potato, some nuts, or a bit of ash cake (cornbread cooked on the fire) in appreciation for their service. The iconic image of an apple on a teacher’s desk has persisted to this day.
Today, a coffee mug or a coffee shop gift certificate has usurped the apple as the most common appreciation gift for a teacher. But there are several other options that will tell your child’s teacher that you’re glad he or she is there for your kids. I asked a few teaching friends to share some of their favorites.
Some ideas are big, like the massage that all the class parents chipped in on for one teacher. Others are practical: “When school starts, parents are very generous with school supplies and items like tissues and cleaning materials,” says teacher Patty. “But I love getting a gift basket later in the year with the same things, as supplies are dwindling.” Some ideas are small: a box of nice pens for grading, a bag of reward stickers, hand lotion (skip the fancy bath products), colorful sticky notepads, a collection of interesting paper clips or pushpins. Personalized items can be tricky, but a notepad “from the desk of (teacher’s name)” is often a winner.
Gifts of time can be memorable: helping in class, dropping by at the end of the day to wash desks. One parent went on every field trip she could, snapping pictures along the way. She presented the teacher with a scrapbook later in the year, and several of the students wrote notes in it. Taking the time to email the principal to share how a teacher has helped your child grow can be a great gift.
Gift certificates can make nice presents, but try to make them more targeted to your teacher than the cliché coffee shop card may be. Movie passes are good, as are cards for everyday places like Target or Office Depot, or even grocery stores or an ice cream shop. “Teachers have families, too,” offers Donna, a science teacher in Oklahoma. “So gift certificates to family-friendly places, shops, or events can be fun.” If you know something about the teacher’s interests or hobbies, try for a certificate to support that, such as a pet store gift card for a cat or dog lover.
Get the kids involved! Handmade gifts can be a lot of fun. If you are giving a gift, have your child create the wrapping paper or a card to go with it. Or create a gift of your own, such as a collage of things your student likes about class or a decorated box to store supplies in. The more “hands-on/kid-created” personality, the better.
A few teachers had great stories of appreciation gifts to share. Doug teaches in a small-town middle school. Over the years, he has seen many siblings pass through his classes, and he chuckles at the trinkets and gifts some have shared with him. The first year, a boy from one family brought him a nice little tin of peanuts. The next year his brother brought in a larger can full of mixed nuts. When the third child came in with a candle, there was a note attached, reading, “For my teacher, who isn’t as nutty as my brothers told me.”
“Please, think twice before giving candy or food,” adds Donna. “At the end of the day, a desk piled high with treats is not always a good thing. Like lots of people, I watch my weight, a coworker is diabetic, and candy is just not something I want around.” Then again, she has a favorite food gift tale to share. “When I was student teaching in an elementary school, the shyest boy in the class hung around late one day and pulled a small bag from his pocket. Inside were two sticky pieces of homemade caramel wrapped in waxed paper. “My Popi and I made it,” the boy said. “There were three pieces, but I ate one.” After he left, she found a note from the grandfather in the bag simply saying, “Thank you for being Donny’s teacher.”
And that brings us to what just might be the best, most truly personal gift. Madeline, who teaches second grade, thinks many other teachers share her feeling that the simplest gesture can make the nicest gift. “My favorite gifts have been handwritten, personal notes of appreciation from students’ families,” she says. “It reminds me that my hard work is noticed and appreciated, and that I am making a difference after all! I keep those in a binder, and they are of far more value to me than any gift card to any establishment.”
What have been the best, and worst, appreciation gifts you have received as a teacher?
*For an interesting take on the history of apples, from the original bitter fruit that came from trees in Kazakhstan through to the sweet fruit we know today, check out Why Do Students Give Teachers Apples and More from the Fruit’s Juicy Past from Smithsonian.com. There you can read how poor water quality and Johnny Appleseed led to distilling applejack, and Prohibition brought on the development of sweet apples.
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Great suggestions. If you’re a newer teacher you may want to see if your school district has a policy on accepting gifts. Some districts will limit the worth of a gift from a family to a school employee to $3-$5 for ethical concerns.
These are excellent ideas and I especially like the notes and supplies. <3