A male teacher sits supervising a group of children who are working on whiteboards and digital tablets

Gift Guide: What Teachers Really Want for Christmas

I’ve never been a school teacher, but I am 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 classroom supplies.


A male teacher sits supervising a group of children who are working on whiteboards and digital tablets

They Told Me …

Wanting to know how they really feel about gifts, 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 these teachers politely hesitated. I could tell they didn’t want to come across as ungrateful. And without fail, once we broke the ice, the responses were very much the same.

Make no mistake—teachers are very grateful for the kind thoughts and love behind all of the stuff they get during the year, 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 in difference scents 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 where and when that is an option. Teachers don’t generally keep score. But they do remember and appreciate classroom volunteers.

Not required

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

Fullfil a wish

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

Group gift

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. Imagine 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. 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 in the student’s presence 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.

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 gift cards from lots of students will be much appreciated and used. Also mentioned: Nordstrom, Macy’s, Staples, and Target.

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. Also check Costoco’s Gift Card racks. Lots of national chain theaters are pushing Gift Cards that include concessions and premium seating.

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 would be perfect for a preschool or kindergarten classroom.

Messages of Love and Thanks

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.

One last thing …

I know of one teacher who has kept every note and letter from kids and parents over a very long teaching career. They are neatly preserved in a beautiful binder. 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 if you are at a loss for how to express your family’s gratitude.


Updated and Republished 10-26-23





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