Teachers do so much that it can be difficult to come up with just the right ways of expressing gratitude. In terms of gifts for teachers, do they really need another apple-theme knickknack? (Probably not.) Do they notice the basket of snacks placed in their lounge after lunch? (Probably so.)
Staff appreciation is often celebrated during the first week of May, but other opportunities for teacher gifts and shout-outs include the beginning of the year, the end of the year, and the holiday season. Staff development days and parent-teacher conference days are also great occasions to provide snacks and meals. Some parent groups recognize school staffers monthly, while others like to surprise their teachers randomly with small gifts.
Here are some of our favorite creative ideas, from teacher gifts with a personal touch to events with a money-saving focus.
Gift Card Bouquets
Crafter Nora Griffin decided not to choose between giving gift cards or flowers to her son’s teachers—she did both, delivering the cards as part of a bouquet of paper flowers. Griffin, whose blog is called Just Make Stuff, made buckets of daisies for her son’s teachers at Far Horizons Montessori School in Orange, Calif. This idea works well for class gifts, too—time-strapped parents can contribute gift cards, and crafty parents can make the flowers. Attach a gift card to the back of each flower, and attach the flower to a wooden dowel for a stem. Fill a small bucket or vase with pebbles, sunflower seeds, or floral foam and plant the flowers.
Gift Card Holder
Teachers are sure to love the humorous messages on these gift card holders. Simply print and affix a gift card to the holder (three messages in all) as a fun (or practical) way to show your appreciation.
This project from the blog Positively Splendid is so simple, even parents less inclined toward crafts can do it. As one of several small gifts for her son to give his teacher, Amy Bell decorated a small calculator by using decoupage to affix patterned paper to the back of it. Then she placed the calculator in a clear bag and added a printed tag that read “2 nice + 2 be = 4 gotten.”
You can make another version of this gift with a printed tag that reads "According to our calculations, you are a great teacher!"
Everyone loves a goody bag! Print this list of suggested items (sticky notes, glue sticks, hand sanitizer, etc.) and gift tag and fill a cellophane (or other) gift bag with items of your choice for a thoughtful expression of appreciation for teachers.
School Supply Cake
It’s no surprise that this affordable and completely doable spin on a baby shower staple, the diaper cake, has gone viral. Denise Deguzman made her first school supply cake in 2011, inspired by other versions she saw online. Her son was a 2nd grader at Carleton P. Lightfoot Elementary in Alta Loma, Calif., and parents were expected to donate school supplies to offset budget cuts. Deguzman made the school supply cake for just $20. It was such a hit, she made another one this year. “Teachers love these cakes so much, they don’t want to take them apart,” she says. Deguzman shares instructions for making the cake on her blog, What’s Scrapping.
Cup Holder Caddy
Brenda Hall is a serious crafter, but for teacher appreciation she goes for simple, useful, and affordable gifts her children can help her make. For this project, she used a cardboard cup holder like those used for restaurant to-go orders. She covered it in chalkboard spray paint and asked her daughter to write a message to her teacher in white chalk. Then Hall filled the caddy with school supplies, a gift card, and candy. She clipped on this poem about teachers that ties in to the colored candies in the caddy.
Hall, who blogs at Seasons of Joy, got the idea for this goody box from a crafting blog and added her own twist: the teacher poem inside the lid. To make the goody box, she affixed scrapbook paper to the top of a clear plastic divided craft organizer. She then filled the box with candy, office supplies, magnets, and other small treats, and topped it with pencils and a tulle bow. She knew the gift was a winner when she saw the box in use on the teacher’s desk at Mesquite Elementary in Gilbert, Ariz.
Word Cloud Poster
Caring, exceptional, thoughtful—these are some of the adjectives in this word cloud poster you can print and hang to show appreciation for your teachers.
Hop on Popcorn Bar
Horace Mann Elementary in Redmond, Wash., went with a Dr. Seuss theme for its 2012 Staff Appreciation Week. One of the big hits was the Hop on Popcorn Bar, a gluten-free alternative to cookies and cake named after the Dr. Seuss book Hop on Pop. Hospitality committee chair Maegan Birr, who blogs at Simply Styled Home, asked each committee member to bring two 2-gallon bags of flavored popcorn. She filled glass jars with popcorn and put out a menu in the teacher’s lounge. Flavors included birthday cake batter, Hawaiian, and Snickers. “Teachers wanted healthier treats,” Birr says. “We could make them feel special without giving them all these cookies and cakes.”
Mountain View Elementary in Marietta, Ga., has a busy teacher appreciation committee, which organizes everything from a dessert raffle to snacks during conference week. For Teacher Appreciation Week, the most popular event is a soup bar, which offers about 10 different soups in slow cookers provided by parents. Volunteers set up a buffet in the media center, and teachers can drop in during their lunch break and help themselves. Parents also provide bottled water with iced tea mix-ins and several desserts. Parents and teachers love the relaxed atmosphere and low-maintenance aspect of the soup bar.
Jennifer Hadfield, a mom from Sandy, Utah, put together a gift for teachers who prefer smoothies or protein shakes to coffee. Start with a plastic cup and fill it with candy, trail mix, granola, or nuts. Add a personalized note and a gift card to a smoothie shop, secured with a ribbon. Hadfield detailed the project on her blog Tater Tots and Jello.
This is a tiny, indulgent treat, presented in a fun way. Place two graham cracker squares, one large marshmallow, and a mini chocolate bar in a clear plastic bag. Add a printed label with the message, “We need s’more teachers like you!” (The label shown above was designed by blogger Melissa Wilson of Domesticated Lady.) Change the wording to “staff like you” or “people like you” for gifts to support staff members.
Thank your teachers “a latte” for all they do with these colorful tags; customize with each teacher's or staff member's name and attach the tag to a bag (or to-go cup) of coffee.
Hand Lotion Gifts
These lotion gift tags say "We're in good hands with you!" and can be customized with the name of each teacher. Twelve tags per page; print out, cut them apart, and affix to a hand lotion for a small but thoughtful show of appreciation.
Plant Tags for Teacher Appreciation
Attach a small tag to a plant for a simple and sweet gift. Print tags (12 to a sheet) that say “Teachers plant seeds of knowledge that will grow forever!” and affix to a plant of your choice.
Walk for Appreciation
There’s nothing like a cheering section to boost a person’s spirits. Each year parents, alumni, and community members join students at St. Mary Catholic Community School in Crown Point, Ind., for a teacher appreciation walkathon. Kids and adults hold signs, smile, and cheer as they walk a three-mile course in support of the school’s faculty. Donations from alumni benefit the school.
Car Window Messages
Californians spend a lot of time in their cars, and they love to use their cars to communicate, says blogger Lori Jackson. “We buy zillions of car ink pens for birthday wishes, sporting events, and holiday wishes,” she writes. Jackson was inspired to write messages on her car during Teacher Appreciation Week last spring. She couldn’t find her car pens, so she used white shoe polish. She wrote, “Thank you educators” and “We heart our teachers.” She got smiles from her kids’ teachers and a few honks and thumbs-ups on the freeway. Imagine the impact if a parent group got everyone in the carpool line to participate!
Nora Griffin of Just Make Stuff was brainstorming teacher appreciation ideas with other volunteers at Far Horizons Montessori School when Karla Roberts-Acosta, president of the Parents’ Association for Scholarship and Sensitivity, hit upon the idea of a love jar. Students wrote notes to their teachers telling them what they loved most about them. The notes were placed in mason jars. Griffin decorated the lids and added a personalized tag that said “I love (teacher’s name) because....”
Rock Star Treatment
The Chesak/Martin PTA in Lake in the Hills, Ill., wanted to thank all employees, not just teachers. But the PTA serves two schools with a total of 400 employees and had a small budget to work with. Last year the PTA used a “Retro Rock” theme. Each hallway featured a different era, such as ’50s, ’60s and ’70s, and ’80s. Parents used items they had at home for decorations. An invitation in a CD case let teachers know what fun activities were on tap. One day everyone dressed in costumes representing their era, and on another, students wrote fan letters to their rock star teachers and staff members.
Summer Relaxation Tote
Let your school's teachers know you think they deserve to relax by filling a cute tote bag with summer relaxation items. This printable includes suggested items as well as tags to affix to the bag(s).
Have students line the hallway one morning during Teacher Appreciation Week and clap as the teachers enter the building.
This requires a little rehearsal. Have a class parent work with students to sing a simple song like “You Are My Sunshine.” Rehearse during a recess time shortly before Teacher Appreciation Week. Set up a special surprise performance for the teacher during the week.
Have one or two children from each class join the morning announcements (perhaps do five to 10 classes each day) to say one nice thing about their teacher.
A class parent can oversee daily classroom cleanups with the children. This could be done after school, or the teacher may allow a few minutes before the end of the day or at the start of the day to help make this happen.
Have the children each write a handwritten note about what makes their teacher special.
Work with the principal to set up recess coverage with a group of volunteers so teachers can take extended lunch breaks. Surprise teachers with these "Get Out of Recess Duty Free" cards.
Bring in a few volunteers to clean the teachers lounge.
Post a thank-you with photos on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram to tell your teachers how much they mean to you.
Line up a few student volunteers to carry the teacher’s books or school bag to her car after school.
Kudos from PTO Leaders
Make a point to have your board members say thank-you to teachers. An in-person, sincerely expressed thanks could be the best gift of all.
More Gift Ideas
Check out our full list of Teacher Appreciation Gift Tags for more inexpensive gift ideas.
Money-Saving Ideas for Teacher Appreciation
When your school has more than 100 staff members, the cost of any appreciation effort can add up quickly. Parents at Carmel Elementary in Woodstock, Ga., found a number of ways to keep costs down for its Hawaiian-theme Teacher Appreciation Week in spring 2012.
Consider the theme: One bonus of the Hawaiian theme was that inexpensive decorations were very easy to find. “Everyone loves Hawaii,” says former PTA president Gary Parkes. “It’s an easy theme to work with and include everybody. And you can find a lot of decorations at your local dollar store.”
Reuse materials: Parents brightened the school with leis, flowers, and other colorful decorations, some left over from a previous event. The decorations were later used for a counselor’s wedding shower and a Relay for Life event.
Get students involved: The PTA sent flower-shaped paper home with students, who wrote notes to teachers on them. The notes were then displayed in hallways to create giant leis.
Ask others to pitch in: Businesses donated much of the food for the week’s special events. For a luau lunch, the PTA bought colorful tote bags, a big-box retailer provided beach towels, and students brought in magazines for teachers to read on vacation.
Be thoughtful: Several vegetarians on staff were thankful for meat-free options. “It doesn’t take a lot to make teachers feel special,” Parkes says. “If you put in the effort and try to be creative and fun, teachers will notice and appreciate it.”
Originally posted in 2012 and updated regularly.