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What Teachers Really Want for The Holidays

Originally published December 2021

Every year during the holidays, I struggle to know exactly what to give my children’s teachers to show our family’s appreciation. I worry about what any gift might or might not convey and inevitably wind up problematizing the staples: is money too crass or impersonal? Are gift cards annoying? Do you have 159 mugs full of hot cocoa mix hidden in your basement closet? Is something my child made sweet, or clutter you feel guilty clearing out? 

Plus — is it enough? 

We asked our audience to weigh in. A HUGE thank you to all the educators who took the time to answer, because the jury is in, friends. 

Here’s what teachers and childcare workers said they love getting most for the holidays: 

Gift cards/cash and a personal note.

-The end. 

Kidding! Read on for a few more particulars in each category, plus some wonderful tips and ideas: 

Gift Cards/Cash

Most respondents explained that they would prefer to receive cash or gift cards because of their “usability.” In case you don’t know, teachers in this country are *grossly underpaid (and under-appreciated, IMO) — and many say that the gifts they receive in the form of money or gift cards actually help them to buy Christmas gifts for their own families and/or to indulge in something special for themselves. 

Another widespread sentiment was that money or gift cards are simply more useful than traditional smaller gifts, with the added benefit that they don’t introduce unwanted “stuff” into teachers’ homes. I liked how one reader put it: “consumables over trinkets.” (The gist here was, a tschotske from every child can really add up over the years…) 


  • Choose either very widely available stores (Target, Amazon, Starbucks, etc.), as these are always “safe bets,” or pick to support local businesses (shops, restaurants, cafes, etc.) or Etsy
  • Many teachers said they love receiving gift cards for food/drink (such as a treat to a coffee or pastry somewhere), including food delivery. If 2DineIn, DoorDash, Seamless or UberEats is available in your area, that’s another fun option. 
  • **It does not need to be a lot of money! Teachers said it’s lovely to receive $5 they can use toward something practical or special. (Think about it, if several families give $5, it adds up pretty quickly.)

BTW: while educators answered almost uniformly that they would prefer to receive gift cards/money and a note, they also made it clear that they certainly do not expect gifts. And that they appreciate any gesture of gratitude this time of year.

  • I love what our old preschool in Portland did — a class parent collected money from everyone and used it to purchase “Buy Local” gift cards (these were accepted at virtually every downtown shop and restaurant) for all the classroom teachers in evenly distributed amounts. This had SO many added benefits — families could give whatever they felt comfortable giving (whether it was a few dollars per teacher or much more) and still know they were contributing to a generous gift. It also made sure all the teachers were recognized — including the floaters and TAs. This also works in a secondary school classroom with a main/single homeroom teacher, of course.

A Personal Note 

I have to say I was really touched by how many teachers said that a personal note of thanks is the best thing to receive. I’m not huge on traditional thank you notes, but I’ve always written thank you’s to teachers (including emails to my college and grad school professors, hah), and it was so nice to hear how meaningful they are. 

One teacher said: “A kind thank you note either from the parents or the students is/was always my favorite gift. Knowing how you have positively impacted a student is the best gift and helps to reference when having a hard day. They went into my ‘Sunshine’ folder so I could reread them when needing a little boost.” 

This^^ makes me so happy 🌞 — and others indicated that they save these over the years, too. 


  • If your child is writing, ask them to help out! If they are younger, you could ask what your child likes best about their teacher and write it down so they are still part of the process. Perhaps let your little ones draw something too.
  • A non-traditional option is to make a brief thank-you video — I don’t know of a great delivery mechanism for this (an email attachment just doesn’t come across quite like a card or stationary…), but it can be a super sweet way to say thank you. One preschool elected a tech-savvy parent in each classroom to collect clips of every child saying thank you to their teachers and then used them to make a group video splicing them all together — so cool. And cute. Very cute. The website Tribute makes the whole process more seamless and easier. 

Don’t forget the other people who are part of your child’s education — specials teachers (music, gym, etc.), school therapists, teacher’s aids, special ed. teachers, etc.

  • Speaking of which^^ — if you have multiple kids, and multiple educators per child, the thank you’s can really start to add up. One year, I think I had nine between my two kiddos — and I’m guessing that’s pretty average. If you still have time, it’s helpful to schedule it out and write one per day, so you aren’t feeling bogged down at the last minute and can really take your time with each one. Another option is to consider pre-made options on Etsy. One reader makes this version, for instance (seen below).

More Ideas

There were so many sweet gift ideas that came out, and many of our readers shared that they like to pair a modest gift card ($5) with something more homey. Others simply don’t love the idea of purchasing gift cards or giving plain cash, and I get that. Here are some ideas if you’re looking for something different: 

  • A nice blanket — a simple luxury if you live in a cooler/cold climate. One reader (also a teacher) recommends this affordable option from Target (~$10).
  • Nice soap — a practical and sensory gift that always goes to use… and there are some beautiful holiday designs and seasonal scents out. Check out local business offerings or Etsy for some nice options.
  • A small houseplant makes for a sweet and lively touch!
  • Lastly, think about just asking! One functional option: ask your school to consider having teachers document things they enjoy somewhere where parents can view responses, and choose something from that. So smart! Here’s how Hannah described it: “Our school has the teachers complete a ‘favorite things’ survey every year and has all the responses available in a Google doc. As the room parent, I collect cash from families and then buy gifts and gift cards based on the teachers’ lists.” 


To reiterate, educators made it clear that they don’t need/expect anything, but that if you are planning to gift something, a note and a modest usable gift in the form of cash or a gift card was preferable. I think many of us parents worry about how much we give, but even a small amount is clearly appreciated, especially when it’s paired with an individual message: 

“As a previous teacher: a $5 gift card and a personal note. There’s literally nothing better.” ~Jen


  1. Avatar of Noel

    My son is 3 and for his daycare teachers, I type out a note and include a picture of him on it. I also put a gift card with it.

  2. Avatar of Beth

    The only thing I’d add as a teacher is tissues. We are not provided with any tissues for our classroom, and I don’t know of any schools that still provide them. So buying tissues doesn’t give money directly but frees up money for us to use for ourselves or our families. But the notes are really the best. I have kept every one I’ve ever gotten.

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