Best and worst gifts for teachers

Every good teacher deserves a gift — rare tokens of appreciation for their hard work. But, Andrea Segovia, third-grade teacher at Ashburton Elementary School in Bethesda, was a little concerned when she unwrapped an expensive-looking necklace stuffed in a Ziploc baggie. She suspected the “gift” from a boy in her classroom probably came from his mother’s jewelry box. She was right.

“I could just tell that it was someone else’s necklace,” Segovia says.

Almost every teacher has at least one story of the unusual holiday gift. Phil Done, teacher and author of “Close Encounters of a Third Grade Kind” has a few personal favorites: a plate with nothing but cookie crumbs (the student had eaten the cookies on the way to school), lunch money and a box of Cognac-filled chocolates.

“I shared them with my students and soon they were all spitting them out,” Done says, explaining he had not carefully looked at the box before diving in.

Along with off-the-wall gifts, teachers receive plenty of heartfelt and meaningful presents.

The meaning is what counts to teachers. Parents and students who know their teachers will often give the best presents. Even an ornament can be meaningful to a teacher.

“I appreciate everything. It’s neat to be thought of, especially if it has special meaning,” says Kim Kirk, a teacher at Cornerstone Academy in Mount Airy, a school for children with learning differences.

“I have very thoughtful children. The kids that make me cookies — I think that’s as special as $50,” Kirk says. A couple of her favorite presents were a gift card to a specialty tea store because she loves tea and a Willows angel figurine specially picked out for her.

Wendy Calhoun, mom of two elementary school students, and PTA president of Ashburton Elementary, usually gives teachers a gift card to Amazon or Barnes and Noble, but she always involves her children, Evan, 9, and Naomi, 7, in picking out something small for the teacher. Last year Evan chose a cola-flavored lip balm for his teacher because she “was always drinking diet soda.”

Though not the preferred teacher’s gift, even coffee mugs can be cherished if some thought is put into selecting a particular mug for the teacher based on her interests or personality.

“Teachers get mugs a lot, but for me, it’s so neat to look back and remember. I love looking at those mugs. I have a mug from the first year I taught,” says Kirk.

Teachers know parents mean well and they appreciate the thought, but they have their preferences. To take the angst out of gift giving, we interviewed local teachers and parents and compiled a list of the best and worst holiday gifts for teachers.

Top 5 best holiday gifts for teachers
Many teachers, parents and experts agree $25 is adequate for a teacher’s gift.

Pretty much everyone we interviewed (teachers, parents, authors) say gift cards are at the top of teachers’ holiday lists. Brownie points go to the parents and students who really know the teacher. A gift card to a coffee shop for a the coffee lover, a pet store gift card for the animal lover, a gift card to a unique restaurant for the foodie, movie passes for the movie buff or a mall gift card for the fashionista. allows customization through a picture or nice note. Download a class picture or use the teacher’s monogram to create a personalized gift card.

What better present to give than something that benefits the teacher and your kid? While most schools provide basic supplies, teachers often spend their own money on extras like reward stickers, games, bulletin boards or projects. Pick out fun supplies at your local learning store or find out classroom needs and buy online. is an online teacher’s resource that offers plenty of creative products for the offers math-specific games.

Teachers write notes daily to parents, other teachers or administrators, or simply for personal use. Personalize nice stationery with the teacher’s monogram and style. There are a slew of websites offering personalized stationery, which sell personalized business cards, note cards, notepads and address labels. and are two resources that offer personalized items.

Teachers are constantly toting their stuff back and forth to school. The bag they already use every day is bound to get worn out. Monogram a bag or personalize a container to keep all their “stuff” on their desk. This could be as simple as a trip to the local craft store. is just one of many online websites that offers monogram bags.

Every teacher we interviewed says this is the absolute best present, especially if the parent mentions specific milestones their child has reached or favorite memories from the school year thus far. An added bonus would be to send a copy of the note to the principal. Who doesn’t like accolades from the boss?

Top 5 worst holiday gifts for teachers

1. Coffee Mugs Every teacher has at least a dozen. They don’t need any more.

2. Baked Goods Teachers don’t want to imagine your child licking the spoon of the chocolate chip cookie batter.

3. Jewelry or Clothing Everyone has personal taste, and children will be disappointed if their teacher never shows up to school wearing the present.

4. Anything Apple This cliché is way overdone. Same goes for anything that says “best teacher.”

5. Candles, ornaments, knick-knacks, crafts, perfumes or cologne and picture frames Teachers can only have so many of these items.

**These top five lists are based on the information supplied by the sources in this article and the research complied by Kristy MacKaben.

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