Ask the Teacher: End of the Year Gifts–the good, the bad and how much to spend

Dear Julie:

I always seem to forget to buy a present for the teacher and the assistant teacher until the last minute. The last minute is this Friday. What is the right amount to spend on a teacher gift? What is the best present you ever received as a teacher?

Thank you.

how much should I spend on a teacher gift

Teacher gifting is so awkward, isn’t it? As a parent, you want to spend the right amount–not too much, not too little. You want to show appreciation because the teacher has cared for your child for about 180 days. And you certainly know that that’s a lot of time with your child.


Some of my favorite end-of-the-year gifts

  • Spa gift certificates (but to a spa near my home, not near the school. I lived about 45 minutes away.)
  • Barnes & Noble gift certificates
  • Unique gift from a home party (this surprises everyone, but I received a very plain and simple pie plate from a Southern Living at Home party as a teacher gift. The parent didn’t know my home style at all, but because she stuck with a simple design, it worked. And I’ve used it several times since. Of course, if you know her style, then go ahead and get her an awesome French Bull platter.)
  • Gift Card to Sephora, Ulta or some other make-her-feel-good shop

Learn more: 6 Easy Ideas Your Teacher Will Love

And my least favorite teacher gifts (I know you didn’t ask, but…)

  • Anything teacher-y. Look, if you’re gifting something to her, why give her something to put on her desk that will collect dust and get knocked over by the next group of 8-year-olds in September? Get her something she’ll appreciate. Plus, there can only be so many “worlds best teachers“, you know?
  • Anything smelly. Perfumes, lotions, candles. Plenty of other parents are gifting them already, and she very likely won’t like your favorite scent (sorry).
  • Anything religious. Seriously. Unless you send your child to a parochial school, keep religion out of it. You can imagine how much I adored the “Jesus Loves Me” crib toy for my {Jewish} baby that one family gave me.
  • Food. Okay. I love food. But before you gift food, find out her allergies. Because a teacher who can’t eat chocolate, will have to gift the gift away.
  • Cash. That’s just awkward. And a little tacky. You’re tipping a salaried professional. No.

Teacher Peach! Really GREAT Products for Really GREAT teachers!

Gift ideas for teacher gifts

Teacher Gifts: What to give, what not to give -- the best ideas for teacher gifts. (A big of snark from a former teacher, but great ideas)

If you have a lot of teachers to gift (like assistants, special areas, secretaries, etc.) consider calling the PTO or principal about coordinating a pizza or bagel lunch, or dropping off dessert or breakfast snacks for the staff a day or two after the school year ends. Teachers are likely in the building for about a week (give or take a few days) after the students to clean up their classrooms, close out the year, write report cards, etc. Teachers love free food. And snacks. Love that.

Learn more: 5 Things Teachers Love To Receive As Holiday Gifts

Gift Certificates

Now, here’s the honest problem. As a parent I hate gifting a teacher a gift certificate. I know I listed it as several of the best gifts but placing value on them, well, that’s not my thing. Because the question how much should I spend really varies by where you live. And what you feel like spending. And how much you have in the bank at the moment.

So, here’s my tip. Don’t do a gift card. Yes, I know, I suggested it over and over. But you don’t want to over gift and you don’t want to undergift (though, really, no one undergifts because any thought at all, with a nice note, is more than enough). Rather than a gift card to the bookstore, give a favorite summer read, a fancy bookmark and a pen. Or maybe a beach towel, beach bag and the book inside. Instead of a gift certificate to the spa for a dollar value, give a  manicure gift card, so that there’s no number directly attached.


Theme gifts for teachers

I love giving, and receiving, theme gifts. This year I gifted an “on the go” gift to each of the teachers (I gifted 6 teachers this year). Each received a reusable steel water bottle , and a mini memo pad and pen. (I found a beautiful case for one with a pen attached. Can’t find it online, sorry.) Another year everyone received a handmade Jimmy Pickles Wristlet Keychain, a sudoku game book, fancy pen and a few other small items, again with the on-the-go idea in mind.

Sweet Sips Water Bottles

Say “Thank you”

This is most important. Tell your teacher thank you. And tell her why you thank her. I taught hundreds of students. I don’t remember what each gave  me and probably no longer have most of the gifts. But the letters of appreciation? Those are in a memory box.

Learn more: Thank A Teacher Day

Group gifts

At my kids’ school the room parents always give a classroom gift to the teacher from all the children. I already paid for it. Do I need to give something else, too?

You don’t need to do anything you don’t want to do. And you definitely don’t need to do something big. Think about all the other parents in the room who also pitched in $50 for that class gift. And now you show up at the door with a designer bracelet? Not right. Not fair. Awkward.

However, it is nice, and thoughtful to show a tiny extra bit of appreciation to the teachers. It can be as easy as a flower in a bud vase, a subtle gift card, inside a greeting card telling the teacher why you appreciate her, or just that card. Other small gift ideas include a personalized notepad, reusable coffee mug or a potted plant.

Best way to decide? Ask a friend in your child’s class. You don’t want your child to be the only one to not give a gift, just as you don’t want him to be the only one with a gift.

Learn more: More Teacher Gift Ideas

If you didn’t budget for a teacher gift

I can’t afford a gift this year. I’m horrified! What can I do?

Don’t be horrified, just take a moment and tell the teacher what a great year your child had. Write her the note of appreciation. I’ve recently heard about writing a letter of reference for the teacher to hold onto for the future. Or bake cookies for the teacher. A great thank you is about the experience, not the trinket.

Note: I was so excited to receive a few teacher-gifting questions. Send me your questions, please! Want to know what to do to keep up your child’s math skills this summer? Not sure how to approach a new teacher at the beginning of the school year? Unclear on the protocol to suggest new activities to the PTO? What are your questions for a parent who was a teacher and is now the president of the PTO? Send me an e-mail and I’ll do my best to answer in a timely manner.

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mom of 3 and wife living in the Philadelphia suburbs, Julie is a former elementary school teacher and a Public Relations manager. She is the owner/editor of Julieverse, a merchandiser with Chloe + Isabel ( and founder VlogMom and Splash Creative Media. A marketing strategist and freelance education and parenting writer by trade, Julie attempts to carve out time to enjoy playing with her kids, PTO, cooking and exercise.

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