It’s that time of year again: the time to show our appreciation for the professionals who have such a great impact on the growth and development of our kids. Every year comes the question, “What on Earth can I give the teacher?”

The two key words are functional and consumable. Teachers don’t need another apple ornament or “#1 Teacher” mug. Instead, give something they’ll use often or consume.

Personal Touch. It may take a little time and planning, but you can make nearly any gift special with a name or initials. There are many companies both local and online that specialize in customized items, such as pencils and pens that will make it back to the teacher’s desk, key chains and water bottles that won’t get mistaken for someone else’s and classy pens that will be treasured for years.

Tote Bags. What teacher doesn’t leave school every day with his or her hands full? Give them something special for toting books, papers or anything else. For a neat class gift, have the students sign the bag.

Office Supplies. Jazz up run-of-the-mill paperclips, staplers and sticky notes by choosing ones with fancy designs. Teachers often use their own money for these classroom supplies.

Jar of Treats. Personalize a glass jar using your DIY skills or ask a local engraver to etch it for you. Fill the jar with snacks, and it can be used later to hold other baubles.

Living Proof. Decorate a vase or flowerpot (or better yet, have your child decorate it) with your teacher’s name and a catchy phrase, such as: “Mrs. Wilson’s class…where minds bloom.” Fill it with flowers or a live plant.

Hydration. Your teacher already has a thousand coffee mugs. Consider gifting him or her with a metal or glass water bottle.

Gift Cards. It’s not as personal, but the number one gift requested by teachers is the simple gift card. To give a special treat, look for a coffee shop near the school, a local bakery or sweet shop. To make it a treat for the teacher’s whole family, go to a local restaurant. Consider buying a gift card from iTunes, Amazon or Barnes and Noble to help cover the costs of classroom apps and instructional materials.

Class Gift. Your child’s elementary classroom probably has a class parent. If you don’t know who this is, ask your teacher for the name and contact information. Perhaps a class gift is already in the works. If not, volunteer to take on the task.

Ask. If you’re really pressed for ideas, just ask the teacher. What does the classroom need: books, construction paper, snacks or a pencil sharpener? Where does he or she like to eat? Or the more direct question of, “I want to buy you a gift, what would you like?” Some schools keep a book of wish lists for their teachers. If not, you could be the parent who proposes to create one. It’ll save you and fellow parents the trouble of guessing.

The Final Touch. As with most expressions of appreciation, a personal note is heartfelt and memorable. Your note can accompany a gift or serve as the standalone memento. You could ask your child to add a drawing, signature or note, as well. Emails are also appreciated and can be a quick way to reach many teachers, if your child is in middle or high school. Be sure to cc the principal, so he or she knows how much your teacher is appreciated!

Jennifer VanBuren is a Georgetown educator and mother of three.


Did You Know?

The average public school teacher spends $485 of personal funds a year on classroom supplies and instructional materials.

Source: National School Supply and Equipment Association, 2013.

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