The Best (and Worst) Gifts for Teachers, According to Teachers

Want to show teachers some appreciation? Here's what gifts succeed, and which gifts stumble.

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It’s the end of the school year, and it’s time to honor teachers, those selfless saints who put up with your kids for seven hours every day. Teaching isn’t a profession for those seeking riches, glamour, or — in half the country — a livable wage. But the little things, like helping a child learn to spell a tricky word, watching a student win the science fair, and helping a kid find his or her true passion, do go a long way. So, at the end of the year, it’s always nice for parents and their children to give gifts to the teachers in their lives. But what do teachers actually appreciate? And what gifts should be avoided? As with any gift, though, there are hits and misses. Here are tales of both, so that you can veer toward the winners, and steer clear of the duds.

The Best: A Framed picture. The Worst: A Christmas Ornament.

“One year a student got me a framed picture of a peony. The picture itself wasn’t anything special — it was probably just a Google Image search. But, from what I remember, the only time I ever mentioned loving peonies was during the first week-ish of school. The fact that the student remembered that was so thoughtful, and made me so happy. The worst gift I ever got was a Christmas ornament. I’m Jewish. The students and parents know I’m Jewish. So, yeah, kind of thoughtless.” —Lisa, 40, California

The Best: Gift Cards. The Worst: A MAGA Hat.

“Teachers love getting gift cards. We spend a lot of our own money on supplies and stuff for classrooms, so it’s nice to be able to get stuff we actually want as sort of a reward for making it through the year. I’d suggest Amazon, Target, and even eBay. Those have always been my favorites, and they’re perfect for teachers you might not know too well because they’re so versatile. I also got a ‘Make America Great Again’ hat one year. I didn’t have words, so I just said, ‘Thank You,’ and threw it in the trash later.” —Chris, 36, Ohio

The Best: A Spa Treatment. The Worst: A Mix Tape.

“A few parents went in together and got me a legit spa gift certificate. Like, with all the trimmings. It was a few hundred dollars, and the card just said, ‘Relax.’ It was such a simple way to show the fact that they appreciated the stress of my job. Another kid gave me a CD of his older brother’s mixtape. I appreciate music, I appreciate the thought, and I appreciate someone pursuing their passion. But it wasn’t my thing. I told the kid I didn’t have a CD player.” —Lyn, 32, Illinois

The Best: A Tote Bag. The Worst: An Apple With My Face on It.

“Teachers have a lot of stuff. We’re bag ladies, for sure. I love pineapples, which is weird, I know. Anyway, one of my students and his mother got me a giant tote bag with a pineapple embroidered on it. It was so adorable, and so functional. Functional is never a bad thing. My worst gift was also fruit-related, actually. It was an apple with my face silk-screened onto it. Regular-size apple, just with my big face on the front of it. I still have it, and my husband is terrified of it. I hide it in his car sometimes.” —Kerri, 32, Ohio

The Best: Chocolate Liqueur. The Worst: Store-Bought Chocolate.

“Chocolate can go both ways. The best gift I ever got was an assortment of chocolate liqueurs. It was like five or six mini-bottles, and it was just awesome. It was from a parent who totally understood what it’s like to be a teacher. On the other hand, I’m sick of getting store-bought chocolates. It’s such a lazy gift, and so common. I sound like a brat, I know. But, when it’s just a generic box of chocolate wrapped in foil that says ‘You’re an A+’? It feels like an obligation instead of a show of appreciation.” —Heidi, 42, Pennsylvania

The Best: Timeline Scrapbook. The Worst: Cookies.

“I’m a special needs teacher, and there was one girl I worked with for about five years. We had worked on developing her speech, her physical abilities, and a lot of other milestones in her life. When she was ready to go to another school, her mother gave me a scrapbook of photos from all of those events. Not actual photos of me and the girl, but photos of the girl walking, or laughing, with words like, ‘You helped make this happen!’ It was the most moving gift I’ve ever received from anyone. The worst were cookies that almost killed me. I’m allergic to peanuts, and the parent didn’t think to mention that they were peanut butter cookies. My fault for not asking, I guess.” —Katie, 34, Connecticut

The Best: Elephant Figurines. The Worst: Knife Set.

“All of my students know I love elephants. So, any time I get something elephant-related, I’m happy. My favorite was probably this little figurine of an elephant and her calf. I have a shelf in my house for all of my ‘elephant stuff,’ and a lot of it is from students. Another student got me a hunting knife. Thanks? I don’t hunt. He and his dad hunt, so I feel like it was a last-minute, ‘Oh crap! We forgot a gift!’ thing. It was like in Wayne’s World when she buys him the gun rack. ‘I don’t own a gun…’” —Matt, 35, Ohio

The Best: A Cash Tree. The Worst: Rhinestone Bra Straps.

“My worst one is almost too awkward to talk about. It was a pair of rhinestone bra straps I got from one of those ‘cool moms.’ I always imagined her yelling at store managers and referring to her boobs as ‘The Girls.’ I opened the gift — in front of kids! — and just sort of gasped. I laughed, awkwardly, while she was like, ‘Aren’t they great?!?!’ It was so weird. The best gift I got was a cash tree. A lot of people hate on cash, but it gives you the freedom to buy whatever will make you happy. Including rhinestone bra straps, if that’s your thing.” —Jamie, 39, Delaware

The Best: A Handmade Pen. The Worst: Handmade Everything Else.

“I’m an English teacher, so I use a purple marker to grade papers. One student made me a beautiful purple pen with a faux flower on top of it. The student was in sixth grade, and this thing looked like a Faberge Egg. There were tiny, tiny rhinestones glued all over. It was hand painted. It obviously took time, effort, and thought, and it was a nod to my own infamous purple marker. All of the other ‘homemade’ gifts? The ones that you buy from the store and slap together? Spoiler alert: we pretend to like them, but we hate them.” —Erin, 36, New York

The Best: An *Nsync poster. The Worst: A Gift Bag of Mud Masks.

“My middle-school students have no idea who *Nsync is, other than my favorite boy band from the ’90s. I was blown away when two of them gave me a ‘vintage’ *Nsync poster that their parents helped them find on eBay. Like, that was better than most of the gifts my husband gets me. It was just such a fun present. The year before that, I got a gift bag full of mud masks and beauty stuff that reeked of cigarettes. It was like the secondhand smoke had a personal vendetta against all the nice-smelling beauty products, so it decided to cling extra-hard. I couldn’t stomach it for long and ended up tossing it.” —Marie, 38, California

The Best: Under Armour Gear. The Worst: Paintball Lessons.

“I’m a PE teacher, and I loved the year a few students got me a bunch of Under Armour shirts and shorts. I don’t spend a lot on gym clothes, so it was nice to be treated to something a little more high-end than I’m used to. They were perfect for summer, too, so it was a great end-of-year gift. The worst, I think, was a gift certificate for paintball lessons. On one hand, it sounds fun. On the other, do you really need lessons for paintball?” —Jackie, 40, Maryland

The Best: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Keychain. The Worst: A Coffee Mug.

“The Ruth Bader Ginsburg keychain was my favorite because I could tell that it was a gift from the student, and not just some ‘because we have to’ thing from the parents. I teach social studies, and I wasn’t shy about gushing over RBG when it was appropriate. So the student gave it to me and said, ‘This is that woman you like so much.’ It was so cute and thoughtful. The worst was a ‘Best Teacher’ coffee mug. Word to parents: If a teacher goes out of her way to avoid coffee because caffeine gives her migraines — which I explained on many occasions — don’t buy her coffee-related gifts.” —Holly, 34, Ohio

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