4 Gifts Teachers Really Want (for the Holidays and Beyond)

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Originally published on the GGMG City Blocks Blog at https://www.ggmg.org/blog/4-gifts-teachers-really-want-for-the-holidays-and-beyond

With just a few days before the winter holidays commence, it is likely you have already purchased some kind of token of appreciation for your child’s teacher. Whether it’s mug full of candy, a gift card, a candle, or a lovely donation to your school’s holiday gift fund, you know how hard teachers work day in and day out and your gift comes from the heart.  

First of all, let me say on behalf of public school educators everywhere, THANK YOU! It is always nice to be appreciated and who doesn’t enjoy a little something here and there? The truth is, there are a number of ways you can show this appreciation year round and maybe spare your wallet and precious SF real estate from needless clutter. Here’s what most teachers really want from their students’ parents:

On Time, Daily Attendance

This seems so simple and, in fact, more of a legal obligation that a “gift.” Really, though, there is nothing more depressing than having a tight lesson plan, classroom materials that you put hours into the night before ready to go and a half-empty classroom at the start of the morning bell. This is the time of year when parents start to slack off and it shows on the attendance sheet and in the tiny little empty colored squares on the classroom rug. So much of teaching is performance, standing up in front of a group, orchestrating a roomful of eager minds towards mastery of a concept, that performing in front of a sparse audience is just deflating. Get your kids to school on time!

Notes or Emails of Recognition

Students rarely give detailed feedback on how a teacher is doing, but as parents we see their impact all the time at home. Whether your child is reenacting an interesting science experiment he did at school by your kitchen sink, or maybe playing classroom with a group of stuffed animals and imitating the teacher’s routines, you can probably tell a lot of the specific little ways your child is benefiting from her experience. Share this with your child’s teacher! While you’re at it, why not share it with the school principal? Principals can get so tied down in their office that it’s hard to see the classroom magic as often as they’d like. Getting a little positive note about a teacher’s impact can help prompt a school principal to visit and provide some positive praise as well, or a little shout out at the next staff meeting. No one goes into teaching for the pay, but knowing these specific little lightbulb moments are happening even after school hours because of our own hard work? Priceless.

Classroom Wishlists

Veteran teachers are saavy enough to be on websites like Amazon and DonorsChoose, so this one is pretty straightforward. Pay attention to whether the teacher has an account like this and then meet the need. Some teachers have regular newsletters where they simply state an item or two they are collecting for a project, like paper towel rolls or magazines. Younger teachers may or may not have explored this concept of asking from parents just yet. I know I didn’t during my earliest years teaching. So if you don’t have a clue but want to donate some useful items anyways, I can tell you I always needed the following for my class: Clorox Wipes, boxes of tissues, pencils (already sharpened!), colored copy paper, and classroom sets of these items: small scissors, glue sticks, crayons, markers, colored pencils, watercolors etc. Yes, schools have supply budgets and teachers have access to these, but these also vary from school to school and many times the time lag of getting a need met compels teachers to spend their own funds anyways.

Volunteer! Or Not

A teacher’s desire and use for parent volunteers varies greatly from classroom to classroom. I know of some teachers that go as far as training parents to lead small group centers and work on foundational reading skills one on one with students, and some who barely reach out to have parent chaperones on field trips. Neither is the gold standard for parent involvement and both can turn into tremendous assets or downfalls of the classroom.  If you haven’t really found a window into volunteering for your kid’s classroom and you’re fretting you might not be doing your fair share, fear not. Managing parent volunteers takes desire, skill and experience and some teachers may have simply decided it’s not for them. If this is truly important to you, look for opportunities to engage that’s a bit out of the teacher’s way, such as when your child’s class is at an elective class like art or PE, supervising recess or helping with a school-wide event. Otherwise, let go of any guilt or preconceived notion you had of being the perfect parent volunteer and use your newfound hours to squeeze in an extra workout.

So in summary, what do teachers really want? Appreciation, recognition, to be noticed for their artistry, and respect. Like The Five Love Languages, this can come in so many forms, so try them all. Thank a teacher in person, via email, through a box of donated classroom items, or in a few hours of volunteering. One of them is bound to find its way into your child’s teacher’s heart and show her how much she is valued in your family!

Jennifer Kuhr Butterfoss is the mom of two children and has been a school administrator with the San Francisco Unified School District for over eight years.  She also does some education-related consulting and journalism on the side.  She is the author of the upcoming book Entering the Lions Den: A School Leader's Guide to Building Trust, Inspiring Others and Not Getting Eaten in Year One.  You can find out more on her website jenniferkuhrbutterfoss.com