Finding that Ultimate Year-End Teacher Gift

This is my favourite time of year. Sure, classes are over. Report cards are finished. Life is slowly backing away from the frenetic pace of year-end shenanigans. The long days and late nights of summer are just waiting for me.

But the promise of time to decompress isn’t why I love this time of year.

I love it because of the gifts my students give me before they walk out the door of my classroom one last time.

Now, before anyone slaps their knee and proclaims “I knew it!” to this apparent admission of greed from a teacher, let me tell you about the gifts my students give me. Because not once in my career have I been given a store bought, end of the year present. I’ve had a handful of Christmas presents, sure, but never a year-end gift.

Granted, I teach high school. The culture of gift giving for teachers kind of falls out of favour when students have eight teachers throughout the year. Buying gifts for each of your kid’s teachers would get ridiculously expensive – and trust me when I say that teachers have a very good understanding of budgetary limitations.

But I have a poorly kept secret to share: you don’t need to spend any money to give your kid’s teachers an end of school gift they’ll appreciate.

In talking to some colleagues – both elementary and secondary teachers – it turned out that we have some common thoughts about gifts from students. Namely that we’re all stocked with coffee mugs. And some of us don’t even drink coffee. It also turns out that knickknacks and things that sit on shelves are, well, space invaders; they’re often cute, and always appreciated, but we only have so much room at work (and at home).

So, what came up most frequently as the ultimate year-end gift?

A thank you.


Verbal. Written in a card. Sent through email. We don’t care how it arrives.

It’s truly the ideal gift – in all its forms.

Because, really, why are you even considering giving your child’s teacher a gift? To show appreciation, I would hope. And nothing shows that more than a personal note – from either our students or their parents. If your child is willing to sit down and write a few words about what they enjoyed about this school year, or semester, it would carry the weight of a dozen coffee mugs with fraction of the required storage space.

Of course, not every student will want to – or is able to – write a note. I teach teenagers, remember. I know exactly how hard it is to convince them to write when there’s something else they’d like to be doing. But notes of appreciation from parents are just as valuable to us. If there’s a particular project, lesson, or skill that your child has mentioned, let us know. It means that our work has gone home with “our” kids – that our time, effort, exhaustion, and concern have made an impact.

So, those gifts that I love getting in June? They’re little notes from my students. Thoughts scrawled on scraps of paper, or artfully presented with scrapbooking skills I could never hope to master. They’re kids popping in after classes have ended just to chat and rehash the year. They’re shy statements of “Thanks for teaching us, Ms. MacKenzie,” or “I had fun this year,” before students slip away for their summers of experiential learning.

They’re things that don’t cost any money, but mean more to me than any coffee cup, picture frame, or box of chocolates ever could.

That’s not to say that I’m not appreciative of the physical gifts I’ve received over the years. I’ve been fortunate enough to have students who have handmade things for me, or who helped with the shopping. For instance, the student who remembered that I’m allergic to dairy and thoughtfully avoided giving me the same Christmas chocolates that her other teachers received. And, if I were to one day receive a gift card to a book store – or better yet, a book in a genre I’ve mentioned – I would be thrilled. And not because I like books, but because it means that the students have put thought into the gift.

And when giving gifts to teachers, it’s truly the thought that counts.

So, don’t go returning those gift cards, (discretely wrapped) bottles of wine, or boxes of chocolates if you’ve already bought a year-end gift for your child’s teacher – just remember that the card is the thing we’ll treasure.