gifts they might actually want

The Best Gifts for Teachers, According to Teachers

Photo-Illustration: Courtesy Netflix

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The best teacher appreciation gifts are heartfelt and practical, and generally fall into one of two categories: something that can be used in the classroom to enhance students’ experiences or something that expresses gratitude for a job well done. And don’t underestimate the power of a note of thanks paired with cash in the form of a gift card. After all, teachers often spend their own money on supplies for their classrooms, and there’s a limit to the number of coffee mugs or candles one person can use. Our advice: Avoid items that a teacher may already own or things that are over-the-top expensive, which can fall into an against-school-policy gray area unless you pool resources from multiple parents or families.

To find the best gifts for teachers that are both practical and personal, we talked to more than 25 educators from kindergarten to high school, who teach everything from physics to art, about the gifts they actually want. Below, the expert-recommended ideas that your kid’s teacher (or any teacher in your life) will most appreciate.

Personalized notes and stationery

Nearly every teacher we spoke to says the thing that makes them happiest is a heartfelt handwritten note from a student. Thao Vo, a sixth-grade mathematics teacher in Long Beach, California, says, “When students take the time to write me a note or a card to tell me what they’ve learned or any way I’ve inspired them, it helps validate the many reasons I became a teacher.”

Richard Schwartz, a high-school history teacher of over 40 years and the father of Strategist writer Erin Schwartz, adds that a handwritten note helps “contextualize a class, a student, a year, a career.” Occasionally, when things are going a little bit bumpy, he’ll pull them out and reread them. “They become a gift that keeps on giving, because they’ll enable the teacher who’s had a bad day or maybe is in a rough patch … to look back and say, ‘Doggone it, I am good at this,’” he says.

Designs relevant to a teacher’s subject, like a stack of books for an English teacher, are a solid option. But if you prefer something with more flexibility, Frank Lloyd Wright prints work for pretty much any occasion.

These Marimekko note cards adorned in the brand’s signature bold flower print would add a nice pop of color to a teacher’s desk or bulletin board.

Or go the extra mile to make your card even more personalized with a video message. Pre-K teacher Kat Doolin fondly recalls a card she received with a QR code inside that, once scanned, led to a recording of a student relaying a sweet message of thanks.

As much as teachers appreciate receiving handwritten cards, they’re prolific writers of thank-you notes. This personalized stationery with an adorable paper-airplane motif will make them excited to sit down and gush about how much they appreciated that drawing from your child and generous Amazon gift card.

This customizable notepad is a thoughtful gift that’s perfect for less formal communications, like reminders to parents or notes of encouragement for students.

If you want to keep the gift going all year, consider a stationery subscription like Papergang. Sabrina White, an English literature teacher in Mexico City, personally subscribes to it and loves receiving a monthly shipment of pens, markers, greeting cards, and more, all designed in collaboration with indie artists.

Gift cards

It may sound un-special, but lots of the teachers we spoke to say they love getting gift cards. “Families often mean well by trying to get you something specific and elegant, but most teachers actually need things that are boring and unglamorous,” says an assistant dean at a New York City private school.

A Target or Amazon gift card can be handy for purchasing everything from classroom snacks and colored pencils to something nice for themselves.

Former elementary-school teacher Darian Nelson says her favorite gift cards to receive were from Starbucks. There was a location near her school, so she would often stop to get a treat on the way, and the cards were easy to use because “you just input them into the app and you’re good to go.”

Nelson also once received a gift card to the grocery store Kroger, which she says was unusual but appreciated. A food-delivery gift card like DoorDash or UberEats is also a good bet, so that busy teachers can enjoy their favorite takeout after a long day.

Schwartz says he can always use a bookstore gift card, preferably from a local bookstore. If there isn’t one near you, a gift card to Bookshop, which supports independent booksellers, achieves a similar result.

Sarah Miller, a former music teacher and current homeschool teacher, says gift cards to stores that sell school supplies are always appreciated. Depending on the type of teacher, you can get a more specific gift card based on their needs — like an OfficeMax gift card for middle- or high-school teachers stocking up on essentials like notebooks and pens or a Michaels gift card for elementary-school teachers or anyone else who works on creative projects.

From $150

Give a stressed-out teacher the gift of some much-needed relaxation with a voucher for a facial or spa treatment. “I do find that when I have extra money, I’m often inclined to spend it on books or materials for my students rather than myself,” versus a gift card earmarked for a time to unwind, says Liz Kleinrock, founder of Teach and Transform.

With a gift card to a local nail salon, teachers “who have an hour-long lunch break can go get their nails done” as a quick pick-me-up in the middle of the workday, suggests Carmelo Piazza, executive director of the Brooklyn Preschool of Science.

From $25

If your recipient isn’t the type to indulge in salon treatments but could still use some much-deserved self-care, Heyday sells gift cards that can be used at its online store, where you’ll find Strategist-approved skin-care brands like Herbivore Botanicals and Supergoop.

Gifts to use at school

Used by Strategist senior writer Liza Corsillo’s husband to decorate his fourth-grade classroom, this tape “turns anything into a magnet,” including classroom decorations, photos, paper cutouts, calendars, and lists. It’s made from a thin magnetic material with an adhesive backing.

Doolin has noticed oil diffusers trending among teachers since they bring a cozy touch to a classroom and emit a pleasant scent without the danger of a candle’s open flame. It makes for a nice gift because “I’d love it for my classroom, but I wouldn’t necessarily spend my personal money on it,” she says.

A nonobvious but much-appreciated classroom-related gift, according to Marty Rogachefsky, operations manager at Neighborhood House Charter School in Boston, Massachusetts, is “Expo dry-erase markers. Teachers are always running out, and they can get really pricey.”

White says reusable water bottles such as this Stanley tumbler are very popular among teachers, who do a lot of talking and need to stay hydrated. “I always bring my water bottle with me to class — if I don’t have it, I suffer,” she says.

Photo: Retailer

Schwartz says that a framed photograph of a teacher with the student or the class is “an inexpensive but oftentimes a very meaningful thing.” These Ikea frames are recommended by interior designer Betsy Helmuth, who says that they have “an amazing range of sizes and standard color options, and every frame comes with a mat.”

Erin Condren planners are among our favorite paper planners for keeping track of lesson plans and daily schedules, as they come in several different cover designs. Jessica Garza, a kindergarten teacher in Katy, Texas, who runs her own blog the Primary Parade, particularly likes how her planner “can showcase an entire week of plans on a one-page layout and separates the page into several subjects.”

Karen Engelkenjohn, a retired elementary-school teacher, says you can’t go wrong with a pack of fancy pens, especially since they have a penchant for disappearing from teachers’ desks.

Items that are personalized show that the gifter went above and beyond. Kate, a music teacher at a Boston-area private school, would appreciate “boxes of customized pencils with the school’s name or the name of the class or ensemble” so the kids can mark their sheet music.

Laminators are both convenient and ecofriendly, allowing sheets of paper to be used over and over again. “It just makes my classroom work stations last so much longer,” says Finn Menzies, a kindergarten teacher in Seattle.

Kids are notoriously germ incubators, so a set of hand sanitizers, especially one with a pleasant, soothing scent, is likely to get used up quickly. This lavender-scented essential-oil hand sanitizer is Sarah Michelle Gellar’s favorite.

Most teachers could use a hydrating hand lotion to keep in the classroom — whether their hands are dry from hand sanitizer or from all the handwashing they do. This one from status-y natural skin-care brand Aesop was voted “best smelling” in our list of the ten very best hand creams, with a citrusy-woody scent that doubles as a quick aromatherapy session on stressful days.

A word-of-the-day or trivia-fact desk calendar can be displayed in the classroom, and it’s something “that both we and our students can enjoy,” says Tim Lesinski, a high-school Latin teacher at Newton North High School in Newton, Massachusetts.

X-Acto Pencil Sharpener

“You would not believe how fast we go through pencil sharpeners,” Nelson says, especially in elementary schools, where there’s “a lot of sharpening going on.” She recommends X-acto pencil sharpeners, which are higher quality and last longer, so you can “get two to three years out of them.”

Engelkenjohn says this challenging Melissa & Doug balancing game makes for a great gift because “it’s something that almost everyone’s going to like, there’s lots of variations for you to play, and it’s very fun and engaging,” she says. Plus, Engelkenjohn notes, “There’s a bit of a play on words, because of course we teachers don’t want to ‘suspend’ students!”

With paints in hand, kids will feel inspired standing in front of this customizable easel recommended by artist and arts educator Rebeca Raney. The standard model comes with a green chalkboard on one side and a whiteboard on the other, but you can mix and match different surfaces (like a magnet board for $46 extra).

Games like Boggle, Taboo Junior, Scrabble, and Apples to Apples Junior are fun and educational. “They help teach students new vocabulary and get us all giggling,” says Christina Ziegler, a reading consultant in Connecticut.

In the wintertime, when Doolin is standing outside supervising recess, she’d love to have these rechargeable hand warmers handy. “We’re out there for a while and the kids are running around, so they’re not cold, but the teachers are!” she says.

This origami kit will encourage students to disconnect from electronic devices and engage with something tactile while learning the Japanese art of paper folding. Talo Kawasaki, an artist and the resident origami teacher at Resobox, a Japanese cultural center in the East Village, recommends this guide that walks newbies through projects like “seahorse,” “Kanji” the dog, and “ninja jet.”

This uplifting introduction to Jean-Michel Basquiat and Maya Angelou shares a message of bravery that has resonated with many generations. While it makes a great gift for an art or creative-writing teacher, students and teachers of all subjects will cherish this defiant poem set against the backdrop of Basquiat’s work.

Eleanor Roosevelt High School English teacher Emily Fink meal-preps her lunches in a bento box like this one. She likes that it’s not made of plastic and would love a few extra to pack lunch for her kids as well.

On the other hand, Rajindra Dev, who also teaches English at Eleanor Roosevelt High School, has given up on meal prepping and has hit his “soup phase,” but hates heading over to the lounge to heat up his soup and having to balance a hot bowl on the way back to his classroom. One of his students gifted him this stainless-steel Thermos, which keeps his soup toasty and comes with a handy, hard-to-misplace foldable spoon.

“All teachers have two things in common: We all need coffee and are generally nerds,” says Regan Marin, an eighth-grade earth-science teacher in Queens, New York. One year, he received a mug that turned dinosaurs into fossils, and now he has his eye on a space-themed mug that turns stars into constellations.

A coffee subscription will keep your favorite teacher alert in the early hours of the school day and while trekking to work before the sun is up. This one earned a recommendation in our gift guide for coffee lovers from award-winning barista Erika Vonie, who says it’s a gift that will continue to surprise even the most jaded of coffee drinkers.

Monica Cohen, a visual-arts educator in New York City, says “a useful classroom gift would be a membership to a subscription site for educators — depending on the subject this could be Amazon Prime Video, Netflix, or — that will benefit the students as well.”

Gifts to use at home

Guylian Belgian Chocolate Seashells
$30 for 2
$30 for 2

Chocolate is a quintessential teacher gift, especially over the holidays, when it will likely become fair game for the teacher’s family. Both Schwartzes still remember a box of chocolate seashells gifted by a student in 2003, most likely from Guylian, the Belgian company that first started producing the candy in the 1950s.

On the other hand, White told us that her sister, who’s a middle-school teacher, receives a lot of chocolate “but she doesn’t even like chocolate!” If you know your teacher has a penchant for a particular type of treat — mochi, for example, or macarons — a fresh delivery from Goldbelly is bound to delight.

For teachers without a sweet tooth, a flower-delivery service would be just as nice. Make sure to schedule a Friday arrival so the blooms can be taken home and enjoyed throughout the weekend.

Emily Atkinson, a high-school special-education and algebra teacher in Nashville, loves burning candles to help her focus. This candle from Black-owned Baltimore candle company 228 Grant Street has jasmine notes as well as plumeria and melon.

Wellness items are always appreciated, and this Burt’s Bees foot cream is Fink’s all-time favorite because of its decadent texture and delicious scent. “As a teacher, you’re on your feet a ton; most of us commute a fair distance as well. So there’s a lot of schlepping,” she says.

Teaching is a notoriously stressful occupation, and what better way to help teachers relax and unwind than with an on-demand massage? Piazza recalls one time during Teacher Appreciation Week when a parent, “I kid you not, actually hired a masseuse who came to our school. They brought their own table and everything!”

There’s also the option of this at-home scarf-style back massager, which former Strategist senior writer Karen Adelson declared the best thing she bought in 2021. “It takes just one 15-minute session to soothe my stiff neck and shoulders, and it’s become a treat I look forward to at the end of the day,” she writes.

If you’re looking for a group gift from the class parents that’s not a gift card, giving the gift of continued education is a fun alternative. Membership to a local museum, botanical garden, or performing arts center is a lovely way for a teacher to spend their days off.

Additional reporting by Liza Corsillo and Erin Schwartz.

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The Best Gifts for Teachers, According to Teachers