Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Seven Great Gifts for Teachers (and Three to Avoid)

In May, I wrote about what teacher appreciation really looks like after reading a catalog full of useless crap covered in empty slogans. With the holiday season quickly closing in, I was reminded that even well-meaning friends and family have historically seemed married to the idea that all teachers want for Christmas is tchotchkes that say "#1 Teacher" and "We Love Teachers". So as a service to the friends, family, students and colleagues of teachers, I started making a list (I've checked it twice already) of great gifts and stocking stuffers that I believe any teacher would love.
  1. Do they already have a list? Many teachers have set up wish lists full of books and supplies for their classrooms, which I think is what most of us want (and need) more than anything. Maybe your recipient has fundraising projects on You can probably find them by searching without tipping them off, which means you could pull off a tremendous surprise. I also read about a site called Goldstar Registry, where teachers can make a list of items they need for the classroom. If all else fails, ask them or find out whether there's a book or set of books they need for their classroom.
  2. Sharpies! I don't care what grade or subject you teach, Sharpie markers are worth their weight in gold. I use them for everything. Unfortunately, they're constantly stolen by colleagues and students, and most schools are reluctant to buy enough of them. A pack of standard Sharpies in various colors is a great start, but ultra fine tip markers are extremely useful as well. If that's too much for you, you can't go wrong with classic black.
  3. Expo Dry Erase Markers. See #2.
  4. A reusable water bottle. Teaching is more physical than anyone realizes, and we need to stay especially hydrated. A safe, portable bottle, like this one from CamelBak will almost certainly get daily use for your recipient.
  5. Magazine subscriptions for the classroom/teacher. Magazines are just the right size media for teachers--we actually have time to read and enjoy them. They're also great for motivating reluctant readers.
  6. Treat us to breakfast, lunch or dinner. Here's something you need to know about teachers: we eat poorly or not at all. Thus anything you can do to help us get vital nutrients is greatly appreciated. Gift cards, though usually impersonal, are okay in this case; make them personal by figuring out places on our way to/from school.
  7. An Gift Card. Let's face it, they sell everything, usually for the lowest price you can find. Plus, you know they won't go out of business, so you don't need to worry about your card becoming a useless hunk of plastic.
Things to avoid:
  1. Really nice pens and pencils. We'll take them to school and they'll be borrowed...permanently. Plus, those are probably the one thing our school might provide for us and our students for free.
  2. Travel mugs. You get three of them for free when you sign your contract!
  3. Inspirational movies or books about teaching. I still have nightmares about Half-Nelson because I identified so closely with the struggles of Ryan Gosling's character. We just can't stomach any of it, because we already do it for a living, and we're usually disgusted by how completely wrong most of these movies get it. The only exception is School of Rock, unquestionable the best teaching movie ever (And please don't leave me comments about Summer School. We all know what Agent Gibbs is best at, and it ain't teaching).