What do teachers want most: a guide to good gifts

Dec 21, 2017
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
What don’t teachers need? Another mug.

Many students love their teachers and want to give them holiday gifts.

But do teachers really need another coffee mug?

They don’t. It’s hard to figure out what to buy them, however, because most teachers will tell you that a child who excels is their best reward.

For those of you who are going to shop anyway. here are a few (super last-minute) suggestions from metro area educators.

The best teacher gifts are personal, said Paul Siegel, a literature teacher at Dunwoody High School. His favorite: a jar of honey from the hives in the backyard of a student’s family. File photo Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

“The best teacher gift I ever received was a jar of the student’s family backyard honey,” said Paul Siegel, a teacher of freshman literature at Dunwoody High School. “It was unique, delicious, and mixed well in tea. So much better than more candy. Almost as good as an Amazon gift card.”

Blair Rostolsky, an English and special education teacher at Decatur High School, said gifts that demonstrate how well the student knows the teacher are particularly affecting. “For example, I eat very healthily,” she said. “My students know that I don’t eat cookies, candy, etc - so I’ve had students give me gift cards to Whole Foods and write something like — now you can go get lots of vegetables!”

A gift card from Starbucks? Also a highly requested teacher gift. Photo: AJC file

A potted plant is the gift that keeps on giving, said Lilian Bryan of Atlanta, founder and trainer emeritus of Montessori Institute of Atlanta. “They can be enjoyed for a long time in my home — and they are not fattening,” she said.

Carol Haldeman, who taught English at Woodward Academy for 44 years, said upper school teachers don’t get as many presents as those teaching lower grades, but the occasional gift stands out.

What she loves most of all is when one of her students becomes a writer and sends her one of their books, with a warm inscription.

Almost as good are the students who become writers (such as sci-fi author Roshani Chokshi) and are willing to write blurbs for Haledeman’s upcoming memoir, “The Misadventures of a Septuagenarian Teacher.” (It “sparkles with wit and charm,” wrote Chokshi.)

A teacher in a Fulton County high school who preferred to remain anonymous said movie passes are actually a wonderful gift. “Get us two tickets to take our significant others out. It shows us you know we are human and that maybe we just need to see that new ‘Night of the Living Dead Three’ while it is still on the big screen.”

Huffington Post story on the topic suggested donations to charity in the teacher’s name, handmade cards, drawings, and “The best one of all: a letter from a student or parent that comes from the heart. No present can replace the feeling of knowing you made a difference.”

Margaret Ciccarelli, director of legislative affairs at the Professional Association of Georgia Educators, asked her members about teacher gifts, and said “the most common theme: teachers love ornaments for their trees, books for the class library, and gift cards. A heartfelt thank-you note or picture drawn by a student is always appreciated.”

Responding to her request, one teacher wrote that she takes those gift ornaments back out of the box each Christmas, bringing memories of her students. “I love putting them on my tree and thinking about their families and how they’re doing now!”

Another wrote “the greatest gift they can give me is passing my class so I don’t have to jump through additional hoops with administration. Beyond that, a non-Starbucks gift card would be just fine. Not everybody drinks coffee.”

Gifts can sometimes veer into the questionable, or the inappropriate.

Some gifts teachers receive are inappopriate. Underwear is never appropriate. Photo: AJC file

Don’t give beer T-shirts, or keychain bottle-openers, or any alcohol-related gifts, including alcohol, say teachers.

“The strangest gift I ever got was underwear,” said Fulton special education teacher Tessa Wilber. “A red thong and a little red bra.”

This was 24 years ago, at a private school for kids with learning differences, she said, “back when I could wear a thong and get away with it.”

Better stick with a Starbucks card, said Wilber. Mittens, socks and gloves are great. Best of all are heartfelt letters, original poems and drawings.

“Sometimes, right around the holidays, they come back to visit after they graduate. I came back to my desk once, around the holiday season, and I found a note from a former student. He wrote ‘I just wanted to say thank you so much. I’m at college now. It took me a while to get here, but you never gave up on me. You always said I know you can do it. So thank you.”