Rachael Rachael, a mom of two daughters, is a freelance editor and writer who enjoys gardening and dreams of keeping chickens in her suburban St. Louis backyard. In her spare time, she helps to edit her husband’s science fiction books. Read more of Rachael's work at www.rachaelsjohnston.com or contact her by emailing rachael@mumblingmommy.com.

My oldest child is in preschool this year, and Christmas is approaching. Teachers everywhere will soon receive corny mugs filled with envelopes of hot chocolate. I’d prefer not to be that parent.

But what to give?

Should we give anything at all?

My husband is a high school teacher and gets homemade cookies or bread from maybe three or four students each Christmas. High school and middle school teachers generally don’t get the deluge of gifts that grade-school or preschool teachers receive.

However, my mother is a fifth-grade teacher at a private school, and she brings home armfuls of holiday gifts each year. Some are practical, some are tasty, and some are just clutter. A few years ago, she bought an inexpensive set of shelves to put in a corner of her classroom, and that’s where she displays many of her gifts from students. It’s loaded with ceramic apples and pencil-themed picture frames, but it contains only a portion of the gifts she’s received during her 13-or-so years teaching at that particular school. Other gifts are scattered around my parents’ home, while still others have gone the thrift store or garage sale route.

My mom does enjoy gift cards, but givers must be careful with these, too. Mom doesn’t drink coffee, but she often receives Starbucks cards, which she passes along to my coffee-drinking sister.

I recently read a post on holiday tipping and gift-giving on a financial blog I frequent. The writer had a laundry list of folks to buy for (the majority of commenters ridiculed the list’s excess), and among them were 14 middle school and high school teachers, plus four coaches/tutors. The plan was to get the teachers those standard mugs of hot chocolate.

More interesting than the original post were the comments, including dozens from teachers who insisted they do not want any more durned coffee mugs. Many asked, “What would I do if all 30 of my students gave me mugs?”

Many teachers said they’d prefer no gifts at all. If a family really wants to give something, teachers suggest a nice handwritten note from the student. If money is spent, teachers say gift cards for Amazon, Target, or a teacher supply store can be useful. Some also suggest parents pool their money to buy a gift for the classroom. Teachers also
admitted they can be squeamish about home-baked treats unless they know the family well, and I don’t blame them.

There’s also the question of whether it’s legal to give gifts to public school teachers. Massachusetts and Alabama have laws limiting what teachers can accept, to avoid concerns about bribery or favoritism. This Sacramento Bee article also outlines some of the rules and risks regarding teacher gifts.

It still leaves me wondering what, if anything, to give my daughter’s teacher. Her teacher has been an educator for nearly 30 years, and I’m sure she’s accumulated many student gifts during that time. What to get the teacher who has it all? I’m leaning toward a simple Christmas card with our family picture, and I might tuck a special drawing from my daughter inside the card. Perhaps an item where I can inscribe her name and the grade level?

Anything but a mug of hot chocolate.

What gifts do you give the teachers in your life?

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Category: Christmas

Tags: Christmas