The winter school holiday break is approaching, which prompts two questions:
— What happened to November?
— What should we get the kids’ teachers this year?
Apple magnet? Nah, they probably have five. “World’s Greatest Teacher” ornament? Too many to count.
In case you’re stumped, we turned to some teachers and creative parents for advice.
First and foremost: teachers say they appreciate every gesture, even a simple note, and understand that not every family can afford to give.
And with more parents working, the days of elaborate hand-crafted gifts may be disappearing.
Popular now? Gift cards — practical, easy and appreciated by teachers, who are often working moms, too.
Here are a few more tips from our experts:
You can’t go wrong with cookies, fudge or other holiday treats. Teachers can take them home or share with the staff on the last day of school. Or how about a dessert-of-the-month? Cheesecake in January, pecan muffins in February... yum.
A parent once prepared an entire lunch for Gail Rost, former teacher and now executive director of the Champaign-Urbana Schools Foundation. She was as impressed by the time and effort involved as the food itself. “How cool was that?” she says.
What’s the first thing teachers do when they get gifts from students? Sit down and write thank-you notes. (I’ve seen them do it minutes after the kids walk out the door. Teachers are not procrastinators.) Save them some postage.
Yes, they can seem impersonal, but who doesn’t like free money?
You can make it personal by attaching a handwritten note or small gift — their favorite candy bar, a small bag of home-made cookies, or something made by your child.
You can choose gift cards for personal or professional use. Teachers spend lots of their own cash on their classrooms — in this area, more than $500 on average, says Rost.
— Discount stores: Gift cards to Target and other big retailers offer flexibility. Teachers can buy groceries, clothes or school supplies for the classroom.
— Restaurants/cafes: Find out where they go out to lunch or their favorite coffee shop.
— Bookstores: A great option because teachers can use it for themselves or the classroom.
— Movie theaters/Krannert: Help them enjoy a night out (and away from the kids).
— Spas: Who wouldn’t need a massage after spending all day with 25 children?
“I try to buy something that they’ll spend on themselves, not necessarily the classroom, because it’s a gift to them,” says Roxanne Bossenbroek, parent of two Champaign students.
The little things
Tiffany Davis, fifth-grade teacher at Champaign’s South Side School, said students often get her gift cards to Starbucks because they see her bring coffee to school every morning.
Others have bought presents for the gerbils she keeps in the classroom or her 2-year-old daughter, who often visits school.
“I always think it’s especially sweet when I get a gift and can tell the child has made a point to notice that it’s something I like,” Davis says.
The I.D.E.A. Store
Make your gift do double-duty by purchasing a gift card to the C-U Schools Foundation’s I.D.E.A Store, 28 E. Springfield Ave., C..
Billed as an “eco-edu-art reuse resource center,” it’s a rich source of inexpensive material for all kinds of educational projects — glitter, paint, pencils, old maps, etc. It also offers classes that art teachers might enjoy. Gift cards are sold in $1 increments, and proceeds support the foundation’s grants for teachers.
To pack more punch, take up a collection for one big item or gift card. Collecting money isn’t fun, and not everyone can afford to give, but that way it can be from the entire class and kids won’t feel left out.
Or, steal this idea from one of my creative friends: ask all the parents who planned to give to buy a small gift card of their choice, have the children decorate the envelopes and hang them as ornaments on a small plant or artificial tree. Ask those who can afford it to buy two or three so that every child can have one.
A heartfelt note
Even if you can’t afford a gift, take the time to write a note of appreciation.
“It’s the personal comments, the thank-you that says, ‘We really appreciate what you’ve done for our child,’ that are probably the most meaningful,” Rost says.
Involving your child in the process makes it extra-special, says Anne Roth, kindergarten teacher at Bottenfield School in Champaign.
“I absolutely love cards with a handwritten note from the child. I hold onto those forever,” adds Davis. “It makes me feel like the long hours at work are worth it.”
Roth still has the quilt she received one year with each student’s name and handprint, and the Christmas chimney a family made for her long ago out of a painted Pepsi crate, filled with jars of homemade goodies. She puts it out every year with her puffy Santa.
And she has all the ornaments she’s ever received, each bearing a note with the student’s name so she’ll remember where it came from as she decorates her tree.
“Ultimately, the best part of the gift is the excitement of the child who is giving it to me. They just light up with happiness,” Roth says. “It really isn’t about what the gift is but about the relationships that have been forged that resulted in the families wanting to include their child’s teacher in their holiday list.”
What are your best ideas for teacher gifts? Leave your suggestions below!
Photos: Giving your teacher a "buck pack" for the I.D.E.A. Store helps Champaign-Urbana public schools, too (top). The store is filled with inexpensive recycled materials for all kinds of educational projects, including rolls of yarn and cardboard cylinders (bottom). Heather Coit/The News-Gazette