Spaghetti was dripping from the ceiling. I looked up, watching the mass of beige noodles and bright red sauce slowly unsticking from the plaster, dropping to the table with a soft, wet splashing sound. I looked over at my mom, expecting her to be apoplectic with rage over the fact that I had just tossed a lovingly made dinner into the sky, but, instead, she was shaking with laughter.
“You still have to go to school tomorrow,” she said, chuckling.
Luckily, my day-before-first-grade jitters only lasted for a night. After the first day of school, I fell in love with everything, from my teacher to the smell of my classroom to our class pet, a guinea pig named Cinnamon. But for teachers who face an incoming class of students who may or may not be enthusiastic about the coming year ahead, it’s nice to get some encouragement right off the bat.
That’s why my mom, herself an educator, sent us to school every year with a present for our teacher. It was usually something simple, but the message was the same—a preemptive thank you for a year of hard work and fun.
This year, show a teacher you care by getting them a personalized gift that will help them start the year on the right foot, no ceiling spaghetti in sight—although a gift certificate to an Italian restaurant is never out of the question! Educating kids is a hard job, but creating a united front between parents and instructors makes it easier. Sometimes a little token of appreciation is all you need to open positive channels of communication. Here are the best (and personalized) welcome-back-to-school teacher gifts.
Personalized Back-to-School Gifts for Teachers by Subject
The stock market was booming and I had just raked in a sizable amount of cash. My business partner, Tony, was ecstatic as we watched our manager tally our earnings on the board. The black board, that is—we were in class getting a hands-on lesson about the stock market. Our teacher, Mr. C., was a fun-loving guy who favored immersive learning experiences over busy work, and I was delighted to discover that he would be my homeroom teacher after having him for math the previous year.
At the start of the new school year, I brought him what I thought of as the perfect back-to-school present: a calculator pen I had picked up at a souvenir shop near the New York Stock Exchange on a summer trip to the city.
If you’ve already met your child’s teacher for the coming year, it won’t be too hard to add some personalization to their gift (though maybe not as easily as thinking up a thoughtful DIY gift for your best friend). Even if you don’t know them yet, you can rely on their primary subject—and even their name—for fun ways to make their back-to-school present something unique. Still stumped? Here are some subject-based back-to-school gift ideas.
- English Teachers: A monogrammed pen or notebook so they can keep track of their thoughts and their office supplies (kids are notorious for permanently borrowing school supplies); a book by a local author, so they can stay up-to-date on the local literary scene; a bookmark inspired by great written works, so they can pause their reading when class begins.
- Science Teachers: A natural artifact from your kid’s summer adventures, whether it’s an eagle feather for a biology teacher or an interesting rock for a geology instructor; a set of geode earrings that double as artifact and fashion; a classroom subscription to National Geographic or another science magazine that can be enjoyed by the teacher and students alike.
- Math Teachers: A novelty calculator or vintage abacus to display on their desk; a unique mathematics-related accessory that’ll be the talk of the school, like an equation necktie or a pi bracelet.
- Language Teachers: Make a small gift bag filled with foods from the country where the language they teach is primarily spoken—think saffron and pimentos for the Spanish teacher, chestnut honey and good Dijon mustard for the French teacher, and an ornate set of chopsticks and a box of oolong tea for the Mandarin teacher.
Gifts of Homemade Tea Personalized for Teachers
If your student is younger and their teacher is in charge of instructing them in all of their subjects, it can be harder to think of a gift. Think of what they, as a person, may need during a long day of teaching instead.
I was obsessed with the natural foods store when I was a kid, with its big bulk bins of fragrant dried herbs, flowers, and teas, and my mom would always let me make a batch of homemade herbal tea for my teachers on their birthdays. We’d focus on blends that could help a hardworking educator manage stress, stay alert, and remain focused. You can select herbs based on their holistic qualities, or on flavor alone. Here are some of our favorite blends:
Zippy Lemon Tea (for energy)
- Dried lemon peel
- Dried hibiscus flowers
- Crystalized ginger
Soothing Chamomile Lavender Tea (for relaxation)
- Chamomile flowers
- Dried culinary lavender
- Dried rose petals
- Dried lemon balm
Get Focused Ginseng Tea (for concentration)
- Yerba mate
- Dried basil
- A pinch of dried rosemary
- Dried Ginger
- Honey crystals
Package your homemade tea blends in mason jars and place them in a gift bag along with some honey straws and a tea ball strainer so a harried teacher doesn’t have to figure out how to strain their brew at the end of a long day.
With each sip, they’ll be reminded of why the hard work is totally worth it.
Back-to-School Wish Lists and Registries (So Teachers Get What They Want)
I was at my best friend’s house when I noticed something strange. In her guest bedroom, there was a book case lilting to one side filled with what looked like dozens of coffee mugs, rulers, and apple figurines. She could have opened up a souvenir store at a New England cider shack there were so many! When I asked about the collection, she told me they were gifts from former students.
It’s definitely hard to choose the perfect gift for someone you don’t really know, but there’s an easy way to make sure that your kid’s teachers get something they actually want at the beginning of the school year. Gift registries and online wish lists are an easy, interactive way for your kid’s educators to be able to select items that they or their classroom need for the year ahead.
On sites like Elfster, it’s easy and free to set up. Share the website with the teacher you have in mind, then all they have to do is register and start browsing the gift guides. They can check out Children’s Books or Gifts Under $25, adding items to their wish list as they go along.
When they’re done filling up their list, it can be shared with the incoming students. It can be helpful for one parent to take charge, helping the teacher set things up and sharing the link with other parents, so that the teacher doesn’t have to worry about any of the details. This is also a great way for a teacher to request school supplies that might not be covered by their small yearly budget; most of the teachers I know spend hundreds of dollars out of pocket each year to make sure their classrooms have what they need. It’s also a surefire way to limit the number of apple and ruler-themed gifts, freeing up valuable knick-knack shelf space for items they’ll truly treasure.
The start of the school year is the start of a new relationship in your child’s life. Teachers have a huge impact on their students, and not just because of education—they can be mentors, friends, and confidants. It’s important to make the effort to get to know them; throughout the academic year, you’ll be acting as a team, with a shared goal of making sure your child gets the most out of their time at school.
I may have thrown spaghetti at the ceiling on the first day of school, but I gave my teacher a handwritten poem (that almost rhymed) and a hug on the last day of school (you can also put together an End of Year Teacher Survival Kit). I was lucky enough to have a great educator, one who communicated clearly and often with my parents. The year didn’t turn out great just because I brought her a custom jar of herbal tea mix on the first day of school, but it definitely helped us establish an initial connection when I shyly handed her the gift on my way to my seat.
Looking for fun ways to recognize the work of your child’s educator? Our Elfster Back to School for Teachers Gift Guide can help. You can also share your ideas with us on Elfster’s Facebook page, our Twitter @Elfster, and our Instagram @Elfster.