Top Gifts for Teachers

Frugal and Plastic-Free Ways to Thank Teachers 

Frozen Pizza Boxes Turned Gift Wrap photo © Rebecca Rockefeller

Give a Personalized Envelope with a Gift Certificate or Letter of Thanks Inside

by Rebecca Rockefeller

The end of the school year is approaching quickly and it’s the perfect time to put together thoughtful gifts for your children’s teachers. Fortunately, the gifts most highly rated and appreciated by teachers are both frugal and plastic-free. Based on extensive online and personal research, here are our top recommendations for year-end gifts for teachers:

Top Gifts for the Teachers at the End of the School Year: 

  • Gift certificate to a favorite restaurant, bookstore, coffee shop, department store, school supply store, etc. This is especially effective if you send a note to all of the classroom families asking for a voluntary donation. If there are 20 kids in the class and everyone gives just $1, that’s enough for a decent gift certificate to a local coffee place or bookstore – Imagine what might be possible if each family gave between $1 and $20…It can be helpful to include some specifics in the note, ie “If everyone gives $10, we’ll have enough for a gift certificate for dinner at Ms. T’s favorite restaurant.” Many school offices are happy to keep an envelope for each class behind their front desk so that parents or students can stop by with their donations and to sign a card – A standard manila envelope will be large enough for both, then the signed card and final certificate(s) can be delivered to the teacher on the last day of school on behalf of the entire class.
  • Movie tickets. Check with your local movie theater to get tickets that can be used for any film; many theaters also have gift certificates for treats from their snack bar, or you can pack the tickets with a few zero waste treats. Plenty of classic movie candy comes in fully recyclable paperboard packaging; check your local grocery or drug store for the larger movie-sized containers.
  • Donation in the teacher’s honor to their favorite charity. If you know your teacher has a passion for the work done by a certain organization, this is a meaningful way to put some pooled cash to good work in their honor, inspired by what they’ve taught your child over the year.
  • Personal letter of thanks. This one shows up as perhaps the most cherished gift on every single list of teachers’ favorite year-end gifts we’ve read. Teachers love “thank yous” directly from their students (without parents putting words in their mouths or pencils); parents can chime in with a letter of their own. This one costs next to nothing in terms of cash (no fancy paper required) but is worth its weight in gold according to many teachers, especially when the thoughts and words are genuine and personal. Of course, it’s always a good idea to use your best penmanship.


apples photo © Rebecca Rockefeller

Apples are Delicious But Apple-Themed Gifts for Teachers, Not So Much

What Not to Give – Of course, in doing the research to find the best gifts, we also came across many “worst gifts” lists. These are the  things a majority of teachers say they either have too many of or just can’t use, although they always appreciate the thought behind the gift:

  • Mugs. Teachers try to keep it down to just one mug of coffee or tea at a time, and they probably already have many more mugs than they need and have room for.
  • Candles. Apparently, many teachers have closets full of candles from well-meaning families in years past. Grading homework by candlelight isn’t all that safe, and there’s not enough free time to use up all that many candles at other events.
  • Personal Care Items – Lotions, Soap, Perfume, Bath Salts, etc. Your favorite scent might be their least favorite, or they may have sensitivity issues that make a certain product a no-go. If you’re determined to give something like this, how about a gift certificate so your teacher can choose their own favorite?
  • Apple-themed items or any tchotchke with “World’s Best Teacher” or “#1 Teacher” on it. Yes, apples are delicious, but most teachers have all the apple-shaped mugs, pins, and other paraphernalia they’d like. And even if they truly are the world’s best teacher, they don’t have room on their desk for a plaque or the desire to wear that statement on a t-shirt. Tell them in a personal letter of thanks, instead (see above).

If you’re presenting your gift at a class party or need some gift wrap ideas for that perfect gift certificate or letter, visit the “Parties and Gifts” section of our Trash Backwards app for inspiration.

Party and Gift Ideas from Trash Backwards

Party and Gift Ideas from Trash Backwards

Are you a teacher with something to add or subtract from our lists of best and worst gifts? Please let us know!

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Categories: Plastic-Free Living


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2 Comments on “Top Gifts for Teachers”

  1. May 24, 2013 at 4:52 am #

    I love these ideas. I used to be a teacher and my favorite student gifts were always the ones they made. I still have one (from 15 years and 3 moves ago) from a student who made a frame out of painted Popsicle sticks and put a copy of his school picture inside it. I use it as a Christmas tree ornament every year.

    • May 24, 2013 at 6:56 am #

      Thanks! I’m so happy to hear there’s another person who loves the handmade gifts – Those are my favorites, too, I especially like the ones that can be used, like your photo ornament.

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