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10 teacher gifts that won't break your wallet



Gifts_2 Teacher and day care gifts can be a tricky proposition. It's not expected, but it sure is appreciated. But it can soon become an arms race as parents try to outdo each other to bribe the people who take care of their children. This can embarrass a teacher and cause resentment among parents. Sure, I will admit that when it comes to people who care for my children, I want them to like me more. There I said it. Nobody who likes me will mess with my kids -- I hope.

The important thing is to let the people who do everything from changing diapers to teaching spelling to finding something special in every child know that we get it -- their job is important, very hard and the pay should be a lot better. This is no time to add thankless. When the economy is tough, a little effort can make up for a lot of cash. For $10 or less, you can still accomplish that goal.

First, let's note the gifts that aren't going to make the hall of fame. Pretty much anything labeled a "teacher gift" by Hallmark would qualify. Teachers are drowning in coffee mugs, magnets and apple-motif jewelry. Add to that dust collectors like World's Best Teacher chotcheys and you might hear a "Gee, you shouldn't have." You REALLY shouldn't have. And many a day care worker has shuddered when they hear that "Katie helped make these herself." The image of grubby little fingers in the batter isn't too appetizing. And try to remember that the teachers saw the catalog for the school fundraiser. So, it's probably a good idea to steer clear of that as well.

Here's what a little elbow grease and shoe leather gets you for $10:

Group gifts

  • Organize the parents to pool their money. Just $5 to $10 each makes a nice cash gift or gift card.
  • Ask the teacher or day care worker if there's something extra that would make life easier, like a TV, a microwave, riding toys or art supplies that are out of the budget. Share this list with the other parents to see if anyone has an extra in the garage or is interested in pooling resources to get them. And a new company has just started that offers teachers the opportunity to create an online wish list of items they need for their classrooms.

Make work easier

  • Classical music CDs for naptime or quiet reading time
  • Movies or books with CDs
  • New play dough, puzzles, games for the classroom or unusual art supplies like stamping sets.
  • Recently published children's books the class library may not have. Scholastic often has them for less, and if you buy from the class catalogue, the teacher gets a bonus.

Personal gifts for the teacher

  • A card with a heartfelt letter of appreciation. Include some specific examples of why your child and your family feel lucky, such as "I know Brandon struggled with his temper and was sometimes frustrating, so I really appreciate the patience you showed and have marveled at the skills he's learned from you. We are very lucky to have you as a partner."
  • Gift cards of all sorts and any denomination are popular -- grocery stores, movies, Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts or other coffee shops, an office or education supply store, book stores, gas -- you name it. They do get used. But make your dollars count: Check out this list of stores that are scaling back or closing to determine if you want to buy a gift card from one of these establishments.
  • Soaps and lotions that go together. These people have to wash their hands A LOT. In fact, a basket that includes extra-large bottles of anti-bacterial soap, lotions and hand wipes would be greatly appreciated, especially since colds and flu seem to pop up all the time.
  • Christmas ornaments, including homemade ones, such as a personalized orb with the names of the kids in her class and the year.
  • Give the teacher an apple with this pretty idea from Better Homes and Mom_apples Gardens, shown at right. Using pine cones and greenery from your yard and a basket from the closet or dollar store you can make a nice centerpiece for under $10. I would give the added bonus of telling the teacher to feel free to re-gift it to a hostess over the holidays. Here's the instructions.

What will you buy? Vote in The Gradebook's teacher gift poll.

-- Sharon Kennedy Wynne and Sherry Robinson

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