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What Teachers Really Want for Christmas

I’ve never been a school teacher, but I’ve been a parent. I wish I’d known years ago what I know now about what teachers really want for Christmas. I would have skipped the “Teachers Have Class!” coffee mugs and gone more for the classroom supplies.

A group of people sitting at a table

Recently, I contacted teachers I know, asking them how they really feel about gifts from parents and students—at Christmas and other times of the year, too. Each one of them hesitated. I could tell they didn’t want to come across as ungrateful.

Make no mistake—teachers are very grateful for the thoughts behind all of the stuff they get during the year, but particularly at Christmas.

But the stuff itself? Not so much. In fact, most gifts become a problem for that teacher. What would you do with 27 random coffee mugs or 16 bottles of cologne or aftershave of dubious origin? 

This year you can make sure that your gifts for teachers will be exactly what they really want. So listen up on these ideas for teacher gifts. And take notes. There may be a quiz.

General guidelines

Don’t spend a lot on a teacher’s gift. Keep it reasonable. Parents who go overboard make teachers feel uneasy and awkward.

If you can’t afford a gift, don’t worry. Show your appreciation by volunteering in the classroom. Teachers don’t generally keep score. But they do remember and appreciate classroom volunteers.

If your family doesn’t celebrate Christmas, do not feel obligated to participate in Christmas gifting. 

Check to see if your school displays teacher “Wish Lists.” Many do these days and that can be very helpful.

If you have time, get a group of parents together to go in on a group Gift Card or special item for the classroom. 

What Teachers DON’T want


I’m talking cute, goofy, endearing, musical, brick-a-brack, tchotchkes—anything meant to be displayed that collects dust. Just image this: If a teacher has a class of 25 students and has taught now for 10 years, that’s a possible 250 of these things. Yep, it’s a problem.

Coffee mugs

Every teacher has received dozens already and even if yours is filled with hot chocolate mix or jelly beans, just no.


This is tricky and not all teachers were as adamant as some I spoke with. Generally, most teachers don’t want the temptation of so many sweets. They get plenty. Others were honest that homemade items leave them uneasy as to the contents, origin, and preparation. Sadly, most will simply be tossed out.


If your teacher has been teaching for any time at all, he or she has more candles than you can imagine—in every shape, color, and scent. Cupboards—or more likely, Garage Sale tables—full of candles.


Especially holiday-themed earrings, bracelets and so on. The teacher will feel obligated to wear it around the student just to be kind, but that’s about it.

Lotions and potions

Again, a touchy subject. Lotions, creams, aftershave, cologne, perfume—it’s all about personal preference and unless you have some kind of inside track with the teacher’s true desires and personal preferences, skip it.

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What Teachers REALLY want

Gift cards

Make that GIFT CARDS!! But not just any card. Amazon and Starbucks are the most desired—and in any amount. Amazon or Starbucks cards combined with cards from lots of students will be much appreciated and used. Also mentioned: Nordstrom, Macy’s, Staples, and Target.

Things for the classroom

Teachers often end up spending money out of their own pocket for supplies. They will be so happy if you help ease the load with a gift. Consider games, books, puzzles, stickers, markers, Post-it notes, dry-erase markers, a ream of copy paper, colored pencils, crayons and so on. Make sure your gift matches the needs of the classroom. Any of these toys or these that I wrote about last week would be perfect for a preschool or kindergarten class.

Movie tickets

The teachers I talked to all agreed that they love having a stash of movie tickets. It’s easy to purchase tickets for local theaters online, at Costco, Sam’s Club or directly from the theater.

Thank you notes

A handwritten note from you and or one from your child is something teachers really appreciate. And, as you thank the teacher, be specific. Teachers love to know they are making a positive difference in how your child’s future is being molded. A note can be a gift all on its own or a nice addition to any of the gifts above.

I know of one teacher who has kept every note and letter from kids and parents over a very long teaching career. He says that this collection is one of his most treasured possessions and one that he goes back to and reads from often, now that he has retired. Keep that in mind!

Need to catch up? Find all of Mary’s Podcast episodes here … 

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13 replies
  1. Tonya says:

    Don’t forget the teachers when your kids get older! As a high school teacher, I rarely get any kind of gift, so just a little candy or a note is a HUGE thing for me. I have 200+ students (and they have 8 teachers each), so I don’t expect anything, but it’s a wonderful and appreciated surprise to get a little bag of candy or even just a note.

  2. BRENDA DYE says:

    Hi Mary,
    I agree with this post 100%, it also needs to include Sunday School Teachers and Pastors. As a pastor’s wife and former SS teacher, I have truly appreciated over the 26 years my husband and I ministered together to the churches he was appointed, to the gifts from our congregations….I am slowly downsizing all of the ornaments, nativities, table runners, candles, etc that were gifted to us. It’s a sensitive thing because the people who gave them live in the same town that we live in, so giving them to charity to re-sell can be difficult. At one time I had over 100 nativities….I am finally down to a manageable amount. We also loved the cookies and candies gifted to us but it was just too much for 2 people….many of them ended up in the garbage. We appreciate the thoughts, however the gift cards we were given we could actually use. Over the years we did receive restaurant and gas gift cards which were greatly appreciated.

  3. Sue in TX says:

    The same applies to other support personnel in your children’s schools – my daughter is a school nurse for 2500 teens, and she most appreciates the thank you notes, but also loves Target gift cards to purchase supplies the school district doesn’t cover…
    And the cards or letters should be written (or dictated) and signed by the children – an important life lesson in expressing gratitude.

  4. Nancy says:

    As a retired teacher, I can certainly relate to today’s post. I must agree that sweet notes from the parents are by far the most treasured gift. I, too, have saved each one and love to go back and read them, remembering each child. I never wanted parents to feel like I was “expecting” something from each child. Nothing could be further from the truth! If there was a way I could tactfully communicate with my room parent and they asked, I would suggest dog or cat food and supplies which would then be donated to a local pet rescue. The children seemed to love this, and it taught them yet another lesson. Many went on to ask friends and family to do the same for their birthday/parties!
    Your e-mail is the first one I read in the mornings! Thank you.

    • Mary Hunt says:

      Thank you, Nancy! I’m happy to know that because somedays I wonder if anyone is out here 🙂 I think you will be really excited to learn big news I’ll be sharing here in a few weeks. Very exciting. Stay tuned!

  5. Karen Fellenstein says:

    Good morning,

    I love reading your daily emails. It’s how I start my day. I think the information about teacher gifts can also apply to gift giving in general. Now that I am retired, my hobby is selling on eBay. Most of what I sell was a gift to me or my husband that I don’t have a use for. Wrong size, color or just didn’t like. Gift cards are always appreciated and can be used. Consumables are another gift idea I like, that way it doesn’t clutter up the home.
    Thank you for all your tips.
    Merry Christmas!

    • Mary Hunt says:

      Yes consummables! One of my best friends and I have agreed to only consummable gifts in the future—anything we can use up so it doen’t require displaying, dusting, insuring, feeding, renewing, refilling, restoring; washing, drying, ironing, drycleaning or wearing. Haha. We are mostly kidding, but we do love yummy things to eat, favorite lotions and scents to use up.

  6. Clare Dougherty says:

    Hi Mary,

    Great article on teacher gifts! I am a school bus driver in Kentucky and your article rings true for us bus drivers as well. I can’t tell you how many water bottles, candy/cookies and knick knack items that I have received over the years. I ALWAYS appreciate a gift card or even cash. One year the parents of one of my children gave me a $50 bill inside a Christmas gift card tin. What a happy surprise!! Thank you for getting the word out. Your article is very true.


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