by Julie Bookman
A big plastic bowl filled with goodies for a single mom and her two young sons, plus a $25 gift card to Blockbuster.
When asked to name a favorite gift given to her by a student, that gift from a fourth-grader popped fast into the mind of Sharyn Briscoe.
“But mentioning Blockbuster, I’m really dating myself, aren’t I?” quips Briscoe, who today is principal of Cook Elementary near downtown Atlanta.
Before she moved up the ranks to principal, Briscoe taught first, third, fourth, and fifth grades at two other Atlanta elementary schools, and she was vice principal at two other schools. For the past 17 years, she’s received her share of holiday tidings from many students.
Why is that big bowl of goodies remembered so fondly?
“Because my boys and I loved every bit of it!” Briscoe says. “The bowl had two of everything you can think of: two Snickers bars, two bags of Goldfish crackers, two packages of Raisinets, of Twix, and of microwave popcorn. I just thought it was a clever, thoughtful and practical gift. The family that gave it to me knew I loved to watch movies with my boys.”
Another favorite: One parent asked Briscoe to provide pictures of her sons, which she did. Come Christmas, she received two handcrafted ornaments; each incorporated one of the photographs.
“Now, every year when we put them on the tree, I remember that student and his family that made them for me,” Briscoe says. “I cherish gifts like that.”
In choosing a teacher gift, it’s really the thought that counts – and the thoughtfulness. And it’s not important to spend a lot of money.
“If you have $5 to spend, a smoothie from Smoothie King is a great present,” Briscoe says. “With just $5 you can make it something thoughtful that the teacher will actually use.”
Nudge, nudge: Most teachers already have an overflow of soaps, paperweights, coffee mugs and apple-themed trinkets. And with apologies to Ms. Briscoe, who loved that bowl of treats, a number of other teachers gently mentioned they wish families would not tempt them so much with those three C’s: candy, chocolate and calories.
But another “c” word is a beauty: cash.
At St. Jude the Apostle Catholic School in Sandy Springs, it’s an option in each classroom for families to make a cash contribution that will go to their student’s teacher, with a certain percentage of the money collected in each classroom given to the teacher assistant. There’s another school-wide collection to provide cash gifts to others such as the music and art teachers.
“I do enjoy the opportunity to participate,” says Stephanie Deiters, mom of a first- and a fifth-grader at St. Jude. “I feel like cash is something teachers can always use and it takes the pressure off of me during a crazy time of year.”
At East Side Elementary in East Cobb, fifth-grade teacher Liz Wood takes the time well before Christmas to sit down with her room parent and toss out some “do’s” and “don’ts” for gift giving. The room parent then shares the teacher’s tips with fellow parents.
“I’ve been at this long enough,” says Wood. “I think it’s helpful for everyone, when you know what the teacher could use – and couldn’t use.”
Atlanta Parent spoke to a number of teachers and parents to round up these gift thoughts and ideas:
Teachers appreciate simply being remembered at Christmas. If your budget is tight, “just writing a heartfelt message in a homemade card is more than enough,” says Sharyn Briscoe.Just $5 can be well spent. Several teachers said it’s touching when a student takes the initiative to find out places their teacher frequents. Good bets: a $5 gas card, or a $5 card to Starbucks, a favorite pizza place, or a local bookstore. (Interestingly, a number of teachers gave a thumbs-down to office-supply stores for a holiday choice.)
Teaming up. Students can join with fellow classmates to give the teacher a larger gift card or amount of cash. In these tough economic times, it shouldn’t matter so much if not everyone is able to contribute the same amount of money.
Consider “experience” gifts, says Maureen Walter, longtime Montessori teacher and the founder of Montessori In Town. Suggestions include a one-year membership to the High Museum of Art or the Atlanta Botanical Garden. (Such gifts can also be given by more than one family.)
At East Side Elementary, one of teacher Liz Wood’s previous classes took up a collection and gave her “the greatest gift ever”: a one-day pass to Discovery Cove in Orlando, “so I could swim with the dolphins in the huge coral reef and be one with nature. It was a complete shock that they came up with that idea. But the kids knew I love science and animals. I had the most amazing experience of my life.” (One-day admission to Discovery Cove is about $300, which includes your food, working with a trainer, and a whole day of adventure.)
Your teacher’s “other” life. If you don’t know anything about a teacher’s outside interests and hobbies, ask another staffer who might. Maureen Walter loves to garden, for example, so she always appreciates thoughtful gifts such as gardening gloves and plants. One year, a number of families pitched in to buy her a hammock for relaxing in her garden.
A little pampering. Your teacher deserves it. A manicure costs about $12. Ask others to contribute and make it a manicure-pedicure combo ($32 and up, depending on many foot-care options). Don’t go this route if you’ve never seen painted nails on your teacher. It may take several families to purchase a full-body massage ($80 from Natural Body Spa). If you collected extra cash for a pamper package, toss in some soothing bath oils, or a divine candle (Archipelago’s currant-scented 90-hour candle is $31.)
Made with love. Help your child craft a pretty bookmark and personalize it for your teacher. Or make a lovely ornament (for two suggestions, see Page 28). Do you make jam? Or a granola mix that everyone raves about? Fill a large jar; enlist your student to decorate and personalize the label for his teacher; add festive ribbons.
Pretty little packages. Cost World Plus, Pier 1 Imports and Trader Joe’s are among many stores that carry a host of low-cost seasonal treats in holiday packaging. Just two items we liked at Trader Joe’s: Almond SnowMan Cookies in a Christmas-y box ($4.99), and Candy Cane Green Tea (20 decaf bags, $1.99). If your teacher enjoys tea, zero in on the varieties she likes and give her some “like-minded” flavors in a festive container (sans the mug).
Just ask. Encourage your child to be bold and approach his teacher: “Miss Jones, might you like some super-soft fuzzy socks for Christmas, or do you have too many of those already?” Because Miss Jones might “ooh” and “ahh” that she can never have enough, while Miss Smith across the hall has two drawers overflowing with such socks.
Get personal. Paige Garrigan of Dunwoody likes to give her daughters’ teachers at DeKalb County’s Austin Elementary something they need – and something that will involve her girls in the giving. And she likes to personalize gifts. For example, a recent hit was a high-quality wooden eraser (purchased online for less than $15). Garrigan used a silver Sharpie to write the teacher’s name on it, and she added a most fitting quote: “A teacher’s impact is never erased.” Her daughters added decorating touches.
Search online for “great teacher gifts” that can be personalized or monogrammed. Just two sites: 121personalgifts.com and finestationery.com.
“When the teacher gift comes up, I hate to go to the gift closet and just pick something,” Garrigan says. “I think your teacher should feel you’ve put some time and effort into it. You want them to feel as special as they make your child feel every day.”