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Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Gifts for Teachers: The Frugal Way

Since this is the season of TEACHER GIFTS, I'm taking the liberty of reposting an oldie (but I think still goodie).

No, I'm not going to recommend that you buy a mug with an apple on it. Or a mug that says A+ Teacher. These are to be found at any Dollar Store.

There are also scores of such mugs, along with similarly emblazoned teacher gift items, at any thrift shop. Do not burden your child's teacher with these; your teacher has already donated last year's gifts. Since my definition of frugality involves getting the most from the resources of time and money, even $1.00 mugs are not frugal, since every teacher is given scads of these, every year.

Frugal Son had a wonderful teacher in grade school. Mr. Callahan was so gifted at classroom management that his class was filled with a large percentage of kids with behavior problems. At assemblies, I would watch with awe as he, with only a small gesture, would quiet down a kid about to go out of control. Mr. Callahan was also an artist, and retired in his 40s to pursue that full-time. He disappeared from our purview after Katrina. If you see him, say hi.

Mr. Callahan also had a gift for gifts. He told his class that he didn't really need anything. So no gifts were necessary. This in itself was thoughtful, since more than half the children at the grade school received free or reduced lunch. But, he said, if their parents HAD to buy him something, they should mention that he didn't need any coffee mugs. He already had a lot. Oh, and he needed socks, calf-height, size 10 and always appreciated coffee beans.

What a wonderful gift to us. Frugal Son and I spent perhaps an hour at the local coffee shop deciding what kind of coffee beans to purchase. There were so many choices: Colombian, Tanzanian, Ethiopian, and more. We picked two half pounds because we couldn't decide on one kind.

At the year end party, Mr. Callahan opened his gifts. He got a lot of coffee and a few pairs of socks. Then he opened a box and out came a mug. Grade school kids don't have the "politeness" of adults. One child blurted out, "You said you didn't want any coffee mugs." Without missing a beat, Mr. Callahan replied, "I wasn't talking about THIS mug. This is the exact one I wanted."

Many thanks, Mr. Callahan. The lesson here for recipients: if possible, indicate what it is you want. For givers, consumable gifts (who wouldn't want coffee? or tea? or a gift card?). We often gave teachers bouquets from our garden. These were always well-received. The best-received gifts: appreciative notes from parents and children.

Dear Readers: what are your best gifts for teachers?


FB @ said...

The key for me in gift giving is to always choose something redeemable or consumable.

Coffee, tea, cookies, chocolate, spa days.. any and all of the above is fine.

When it gets down to ceramic apples or things that you aren't quite sure they'd like but seems "appropriate", it's where it can go wrong.

I've received so many candles and lotions, I cannot even begin to tell you. And I don't like candles OR lotions, since I don't use anything heavily perfumed.

A great tip for all. I've never gone wrong with a cake or cookies :)

Anonymous said...

I bought "forever stamps" yesterday to use as birthday gifts for older family members who aren't users of e-mail and online bill paying. "Forever stamps" might be appreciated by some teachers, but the price is going to go up on Monday so time is running out to get them at 42 cents each.

Funny about Money said...

Interesting... Back in the Cretaceous, my San Francisco junior high school didn't allow kids to give gifts to teachers. On the surface it was considered a conflict of interest, but under the surface, of course, it was an acknowledgment that not every kid in the student body, which encompassed a Black ghetto (yes, Virginia, there surely were such things back then), a Latin barrio, a working-class white district, and the upscale Sunset district, could afford to give Teacher anything, much less something that would come up to what the Rich Kids would bring in. Maybe schools are more homogeneous today, but...still... Seems to me the best thing to give Teacher is something home-made that expresses the student's gratitude and respect (if any).

But...the "forever stamps" idea is good. Really good!

Over the Cubicle Wall said...

Consumables are great gifts. I like the sock idea too. Good, quality socks are a treasure.

I have given things like coffee, cheese, or nuts many times. For teachers in particular, school supplies or gift cards to stores like office depot or staples. Many of the teachers I know buy extra classroom materials out of their own pocket.

E.C. said...

The best gift a parent can give me is to show up for parent conference night. It's to talk to his or her kids about school, to make it clear that doing well is important, to be aware of how the kid is doing, to back me (or at least not come to school specifically to yell at me) if there are discipline problems.

The only material gift I've gotten this year was a really hideous ceramic angel that will probably always occupy a place of pride in my office once I have one because I adore the student who gave it to me.

Duchesse said...

FB said it all! My sons went to a French school (as part of Canada's official languages legislation). There was not one teacher from daycare through high school who did not appreciate a good bottle of wine.
And lord knows teaching my kids, they needed it.

Frugal Scholar said...

@All--So many good ideas. I think the gifts here only go through grade 6 and then peter out.

@E.C.-- If you stay in teaching, do not display that gift in your office. You will get 100s more. One of my colleagues said, "Why does everyone bring me zebras?" I said, "Look around."

@Duchesse--I don't know about the wine around here.

Anonymous said...

What a sweet guy!

My fourth grade teacher collected pencils. I loved that.

At the end of the year I was the only third grader who didn't know she was supposed to bring a gift to the class. But that morning I'd found a four leaf clover and gave it. She cried and laminated it... so I think that went over well.

These days we give $20 gift certificates to Target or a specialty grocery. Growing up the teachers made more than my family did (strong union state vs. single income female humanities professor with long-term unemployed spouse), but out here there's no unions and both preschool and elementary school teachers can use a few extra dollars during the holidays a lot more than we can. Of course, there's no letter grades yet...we may have to reconsider that gift once there are.

I also have allergies and HATE candles.

My Asian students (both East Asian and Continental) are the only ones who give me gifts, and they're always very lovely. Usually they give good luck charms, but occasionally a decorative cup or scarf.

SewingLibrarian said...

When my daughter was finishing kindergarten, we mothers knew the teacher was longing to visit her son and family in another state. So we pooled our money and gave her enough to buy an airline ticket. She really appreciated that gift. She was and is an exceptional teacher, and I'm so glad my son has her as his teacher this year. Maybe another trip is in her future!

Duchesse said...

A year later, I'd still say, wine-unless you know they abstain.

One teacher I know asks for a canned food donation; she puts out a basket and the kids bring items. It then goes to a food bank. She talks with her students about her life growing up on food stamps and how much her family appreciated Christmas baskets from a local agency.

Jane said...

Well since I'm a teacher I thought I'd weigh in on this topic. FB & FabulouslyBroke has the right idea - consumable or redeemable (or nothing would also be appreciated) so we don't have to find space in the cupboard for more mugs we won't use. BUT I don't know a teacher that doesn't drink coffee or tea - we seem to live on it - so a coffee card or beans or teabags would be an awesome gift. I have a couple of parents who always give Tim Horton cards and I really appreciate those:)

Frugal Scholar said...

@nic/mag--Love the pencils! And the certificate to a specialty grocery--that's just great.

@SewingLibrarian--that's the best thing I ever heard of.

@Duchesse-Love the food bank idea too.

@Jane--Coffee, tea--can't go wrong. And I guess you can re-gift if you don't use either.