Surprise! They aren’t mugs.
Written by: Shelley Zansler
What do Teachers Actually Want?
Teachers are probably the closest things to superheroes many of us will encounter, but for whatever reason, finding the right gifts to express appreciation for them can be a huge challenge. We found out what teachers really want from students and parents...and what they don’t. These 18 teacher-approved presents have the personal and practical elements teachers of all grade levels love. The best part? It’s really easy to make your teacher’s day (or year), no matter your budget.
Save the apples for your own lunch and surprise your teacher with one of these thoughtful gifts instead.
1. The pencil sharpener that all the teachers are talking about
Seriously, teachers are all about this pencil sharpener that was created by a teacher with the sole purpose of eliminating every teacher’s number one annoyance: noisy pencil sharpeners. These colorful bad boys are quick, quiet and not falling off the wall by the classroom door.
Image courtesy of Classroom Friendly Supplies
“I ordered sharpeners for my classroom, my home and other teachers that I work with. We are all obsessed! The pencils never break. I will never waste money on an electric sharpener again!” -Renae H. via Classroom Friendly Supplies
Buy the sharpener at Classroom Friendly Supplies for $25, or get a discount when you buy multiple.
2. Everyone loves a good book
Perhaps your teacher introduced you to an author who just released a new book, or maybe you read a story that reminded you of something your teacher said in class. Books can be great gifts for teachers because there are tons of opportunities to make them personal.
Image courtesy of pxhere
Bonus points: Find a signed edition, like the ones available at Powell’s City of Books. Your own inscription is a great touch, too!
3. Personalized pencils
Nothing is worse than having your pencils stolen. Help your teacher keep track of their supplies with personalized school supplies, like these customized pencils.
Image courtesy of stampoutonline
“Last year I did high school and as a gift from a friend I had some that said, "I stole this pencil from Miss X" and "Miss X is my favorite teacher". I sold them for a quarter! The students would vote where we would donate the money to.”freshwaterchacos via Reddit
Get 432 pencils for $21 here.
4. Gift cards
When asked what their favorite gifts are, teachers commonly place gift cards near the top, especially for places nearby so they can enjoy some quality off-campus time. Think coffee shops, restaurants or movie vouchers.
Image courtesy of Hip2Save
Dress them up with these free, printable gift card holders at Hip2Save.
5. Their go-to grading tool, but better
Teachers spend a huge amount of their time grading assignments, so giving them something to help with that process can be a great gift.
Image courtesy of Amazon
“Flair pens are the best, and I love having different colors to mark students’ papers. The 36 pack was perfect for my classroom - I can give different color pens to kids to mark each other’s papers.” -Rebecca W. via Amazon
Get 24 for $20 on Amazon.
6. A bottle of nice wine
It’s simple and sure to get use while your teacher unwinds at home after class. We suggest that parents drop this gift off.
Image courtesy of Amazon
“I’m not a massive drinker but I’m always sooo delighted to get a bottle of wine rather than soap/pens/fridge magnets/photo frames. With a thank you card.” -cjc2014 via Reddit
Pair it with these stemless wine glasses for teachers for $20 from Amazon.
7. A new lanyard
A thoughtful gift to help your teacher keep their ID, classroom key and other necessities in one spot.
Image courtesy of TheWanderfulShop
“I have fun ones that I switch between so it's not.so boring, though I usually default to my Harry Potter one.” -erkala21 via Reddit
Get this Gryffindor lanyard from TheWanderfulShop for $4.
8. School supplies
Teachers usually pay out of pocket for the supplies in their classrooms, which can add up quickly. Pencils, pens, dry erase markers, coloring supplies, disinfecting wipes and tissues are used on a daily basis, so whenever teachers get a new stock of any classroom supplies, it’s a big help.
Image courtesy of Hometalk
Get creative by making a supply cake like this one from Hometalk, or present the supplies as-is.
9. A movie night
Treat your teacher to a night at the movies. A gift certificate or a couple of tickets and concession vouchers is a fun gift that gives teachers an easy way to spend some time with a friend or loved one.
Get the details behind this idea at Kuts, Paper, Scissors.
10. Sponsorship or donation to a cause close to their hearts
Teachers tend to work within limited space and may feel guilty when a gift must be given away because they simply don’t have room to keep it. Donating in their name to a cause they support is a thoughtful gift that doesn’t take up any space.
Image courtesy of ASPCA
Check out a cause your teacher would love here.
11. A sturdy, personalized tote bag
Teachers have a lot to haul to and from school. This gift is a simple gesture that shows you pay attention and care for your teacher, and it won’t go unappreciated.
Image courtesy of Thirty-One
“I was given a Thirty-One tote bag as a gift over the summer. It's the perfect size for my lunch, coffee tumbler, water, and can still hold papers, a laptop or whatever I am hauling around. It's not fancy - brightly colored canvas-like fabric, but it does the job.” -bwatching via Reddit
Get the Organizing Utility tote from Thirty-One here.
12. A well-thought gift basket
When done well, gift baskets can be a huge hit and a lot of fun for students and parents who are more DIY-oriented. The key is to make the basket useful and geared toward the teacher’s interests. Teachers are pragmatic folks, and if the basket is more style than substance, its contents will probably still be appreciated, but not necessarily used.
Image courtesy of Skip To My Lou
“I LOVE cute, but as a teacher, I love practical more. If it’s cute AND practical, you have the best gift ever.” -Allie, Miss Lovie
13. Something fun to add to their collection
Does your math teacher always work Star Wars characters into word problems? Or maybe your teacher is a Volkswagen enthusiast and has a row of toy cars on their desk. Teachers are people, too, with lives and interests that extend beyond the classroom.
Image courtesy of Think Geek
“I have an extensive elephant collection in my classroom. One student bought me an elephant to add to it, and another made me a notebook and painted an elephant on it. I was so touched that they paid attention and picked out/made something special for me.” -zaftigzebra via reddit
14. A keepsake or memory book
Whether it’s a scrapbook-style binder filled with quotes, pictures, memories and notes or a blank book that the teacher can keep all the doodles and letters they receive from students over the years, teachers will cherish something like this forever.
Image courtesy of Lasso the Moon
“I just found a book a bunch of kids had written thank you post its from class, and one of the students put it together with her artwork. I will always treasure that one!” -geobabs via Reddit
Find the photo book how-to via Lasso the Moon.
Customizable journal available through Etsy starting at $5.50.
15. A handmade plaque or decoration for the classroom
This is another fun idea for the DIY-minded. As with many of the other gifts in this list, the key to this is personalization.
Image courtesy of PersonalizedSmiles
“My favorite gift ever is a hand-painted sign that explains how to pronounce my name in a way that parents and students can remember. It hits the sweet combo of being handmade, useful, and cute wall decor.” -sometimes-i-rhyme via Reddit
Customizable sign available via Etsy for $14.50.
Find the wood sign tutorial at One Project Closer.
16. Your time
This gift doesn’t cost anything, but it’s highly valued by teachers. An excellent way to express appreciation is to hang out after class or at the end of the school year to help organize or clean the classroom.
Image courtesy of alkruse24 via Flickr
17. Something that reflects a class memory
This kind of gift can take many forms, like a note, a doodle or some sort of knick-knack. If it is meaningful and will remind your teacher of a specific, positive moment in class, it will be valued. Try a class picture with each students’ signature.
Image courtesy of Pinterest
Autograph frames available on Amazon for $15.
18. A letter or card.
By far, this is the best gift a student can give a teacher. Teachers live to see their students’ progress and growth, and the thing they treasure the most is a handwritten letter from a student thanking them and letting them know that they made a difference. While snacks get eaten, candles burn down, and mugs get donated, the gratification and affirmation that comes from knowing they’ve made a difference in the lives of their students stays with teachers forever. Pair this with the keepsake book and get the whole class in on letter-writing for a gift that will most definitely be cherished by your teacher forever.
“A heartfelt note is great. We treasure those. Even better is when you come back in five or ten years to tell them the difference they made in your life.” -Obliosmom via Reddit
Gift to Avoid
Teachers will probably appreciate any gift that has some thought behind it, but there are some things they receive so frequently that they’d just rather not see any more of them. Impersonal and impractical gifts should generally be avoided, but be sure to steer clear of these specific types of gifts, too:
- Mugs At this point, it’s almost cliché to say that teachers really don’t want any more mugs emblazoned with “World’s Greatest Teacher” or education-themed puns, but every year, teachers are bound to get a couple of these to add to their collection. It’s not that they don’t love and appreciate the thought; it’s just that their cupboards are full enough, and these gifts often end up getting donated.
- Candles and lotions This can be okay if, for instance, you see your teacher use a specific lotion at school every day and it’s something you know they will use and like. However, anything that deals with scents can be a tricky area, as you run a high risk of getting something your teacher will not like or be allergic to.
- Apple themed tchotchkes It’s tempting. There are so many cute teacher gifts shaped like or adorned with apples, and you just want to let your teachers know you appreciate them by way of notepad, koozie, desk plaque or any number of crisp, nutritious trinkets. But perhaps the reason there are so many of these objects is because students and parents buy them in droves for their teachers year after year. At some point, enough is enough.
- Gifts that break the bank Note that it’s possible for teachers to get gift cards that have too much value. Some school districts have ethics codes that bar teachers from accepting gifts worth more than a specified amount. However, students who want to give their teacher a larger gift amount can collaborate with other classmates and go in on a gift together.