I’m a big believer in thank you gifts at the end of the school year. And not just because I used to be a teacher. I’ve given gifts of appreciation to coaches, babysitters, and swimming instructors, too. 

As a former teacher who also coached extra-curricular school teams, I know first-hand what a challenging role it can be. I know that countless extra hours are spent preparing and working behind the scenes, in an effort to provide a positive experience for all the kids involved. If you don’t believe me, all it takes is volunteering on a class field trip or sitting in on a two-hour team practice. You’ll quickly realize how much energy and patience are required, and I guarantee you’ll feel compelled to present the teacher with a red cape or a medal. 

Yes, teaching is a job, but it’s also very personal. As parents, we’re entrusting our children to these people for at least six hours a day, five days a week. The best teachers are the ones who get to know each student and understand what makes them tick. When I was teaching, it meant a lot to me when families expressed their appreciation for the interest or support that I had shown to their child. 

To clarify, the thank you gift doesn’t have to be large or expensive. Far from it, in fact. In our family, a handwritten note is a mandatory part of the gesture. I always have my kids write a message, and sometimes I will add a few lines and sign it as well. Neither of my boys are particularly fond of the extra printing work, but they’ve become accustomed to it as an annual end-of-year or end-of-season tradition. (Frankly, I think they’ve realized that it’s easier to just write the note than to sit through another one of my lectures on the importance of gratitude.) 

When they were younger, I would talk them through the writing process, giving them some sentence starters like “Thank you for…” and “My favourite part of this year was…” or “You are a great teacher because…”. The most important thing is that it comes from the heart. I resist the urge to correct their spelling and grammar, because I want it to be authentic. My younger son likes to draw, so he will often add a little cartoon sketch. My older son is less artistic, so in the early days, I would have him fill in any blank spaces with relevant stickers. 

For the actual gift, I try to choose something personal if I can. In conversations with the teachers, I listen closely to pick up details about their family, pets, interests or hobbies. One year, a teacher had just gotten a new puppy, so we gave her a guide book about Portuguese water dogs. Another teacher revealed that he was a sailing enthusiast, so we found him a wall calendar with photographs of sailboats. I’ve ordered Mabel’s Labels that are personalized with the teacher’s name, and even the names of their kids. Gifts of food and drink can sometimes be tricky due to allergies or personal preferences, so if I don’t have much personal insight to go on, I’ll choose something more generic like a soap/lotion set or a multi-restaurant gift card. Again, it doesn’t have to be a big-ticket item—it’s the thought that counts. 

But, what if it hasn’t been a stellar year, or your child hasn’t exactly “clicked” with a particular teacher? My advice would be to take the high road and still have a card and gift ready on the last day. It’s important that kids learn to show appreciation, even if the person won’t go down in history as their number-one favourite. That said, if you’ve had an all-star teacher this year, by all means feel free to go above and beyond for him or her. 

Another way to thank a standout teacher (that costs absolutely nothing) is to write a glowing email to the principal. Express that your child has had an extremely positive year and be specific about what makes the teacher exceptional. Sending a one-paragraph message may seem like a small thing, but it can make a major difference to that teacher’s professional prospects. This is especially true for young educators who are starting out their careers on a short-term contract and working toward a permanent placement. 

The end of the school year can be a busy time, and teacher gifts might feel like one more unwanted thing on your to-do list. Trust me, though, it’s meaningful and worthwhile, both for the teacher and for your kids.



Kristi York is a freelance writer and mom of two sports-loving boys. Her work has been published by ParentsCanada, Running Room, ParticipACTION and The Costco Connection.

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