How To Thank Teachers at the Holidays & End of the Year

So it's the holidays or the end of the year, and you are probably wondering what you should do about giving gifts to your child's teacher. What exactly is expected from parents? Do you go all out with something big or can you keep it small & more personal? You've even heard rumors that giving gifts aren't even allowed.  Park Slope Parents explores the dos & the not to dos of what to give teachers & discusses what exactly the rules are when it comes to gifting teachers in both NYC public & private schools. 

And we even have some advice from teachers too about what is cool (or not cool) when it comes to gifting.


teacher appreciation


In this article:


The Teacher's Perspective: Teachers share their experiences

The Parents' Point of View: PSP members talk what gifting is like at their school


NOTE: In addition to teachers, let's not forget all the other folks who make our schools run and keep our kids safe!

Janitorial staff
Crossing guards
Principals and vice-principals
Social workers and guidance counselors
Main office staff
Lunch staff
Parent coordinators
School nurses
Bus drivers

Even if you don't have time to have your kid(s) make a thank you card, or buy a Starbucks gift, or write a special note for everyone—just look folks in the eye and say "THANK YOU. I appreciate you!"




PSP has discussed in the past this idea that "teachers are not allowed to accept money." Phooey. A 2009 (and subsequent) reminders from the Chancellor would seem to contradict this... "Teachers may accept class gifts as long as parents are not asked to contribute more than a small amount of money towards the gift and all parents are given an opportunity to sign the card, whether or not they contribute to the gift."

More specifically, by DOE/UFT rules, teachers are not allowed to accept gifts valued at more than $3–5 from an individual student. And if you do a class gift pool, you must share that the gift comes from the WHOLE CLASS. For example: You cannot have the gifters sign a card and leave out the kids that didn't give. This helps protect the teacher from any claims of favoritism and respect socio-economic equity among families.


So, in keeping with what others have said over the years about Class Gifts to teachers:

  • EVERYONE's name goes on the card (it's the DOE rule).
  • Be sure to check with your school’s handbook to find out the school policy on gifting. Some schools don’t allow any financial gifts to faculty and staff.
  • No family feels pressure to contribute (nor should they contribute any amount over $5).
  • The teacher should not know how much any child contributes (this could lead to issues for the teacher and the DOE).
  • Venmo, Zelle, and PayPay may be easier than cash if you're collecting for a group pool.
  • At the end of the day, you can feel like you can give (and give generously) without feeling like it's against "policy."
  • If you hand out index cards to parents to write a personalized note you can collect the cards, hole-punch the corner and put in a ring for an easy way to present it to the teacher.


What to give:

  • A handwritten note from the student and/or parent is ALWAYS welcome, especially when its spells out HOW you appreciate the teacher. Including a photo from a class trip or school event is great too.
  • A gift card. Note that gift cards can have fees associated with them as well as limitations on where they can be spent, so consider whether you want to limit their ability to spend.
  • And, absolutely, SUPPORT teachers with your votes (as well as your contributions to your teachers' vacation money away from teaching our kids!)


What not to give:

  • SKIP things like booze, food, homemade treats, candles, lotions, mugs, knick knacks, any teacher related paraphernalia (think those #1 teacher mugs with apples on them, etc).
  • Homemade craft projects. While you might love the idea of making your own Pinterest-worthy gift with your child, teachers simply do not have the capacity to store these objects from their students over the years. There is a lot of guilt that comes with getting rid of these types of gifts—so please spare them!


Words of wisdom from PSP Members


From teachers:


“I know teachers and families have different feelings here, but from my past experience as a teacher and in schools--what I really valued were sincere notes from parents/guardians, even if they were brief (but with specifics). Although notes from children were precious when they were heartfelt, I don't think many teachers want things from kids that feel forced. Not every child is into this type of thing. Cards/letters to specialist and non-advisory/homeroom teachers are also important.  The teacher gift dilemma is one of those seemingly simple but always fraught types of issues. (May it be our worst problem, right?) Many Parents Associations in independent schools collect money to distribute to staff--as was already mentioned here--which may be as good a solution as any. But even then, it's felt weirdly impersonal to be handed an envelope of cash from a Parents Association rep. Hmm.”


"I am a NYC public school teacher [...] Gifts are appreciated. I am most happy when I get a gift certificate that I can use, Starbucks, Macys, American express. It makes a difference, I feel appreciated when a student gives something that shows appreciation. I am with these children for 180 days and when a family gives me something special that shows they appreciate my efforts, It makes me feel like they care. It is not a bribe, but a $25 gift certificate means a lot to me."


"I teach teens but I am uncomfortable receiving gifts and won't be giving any to my daughters future teachers. It's prohibited by DOE because it can be construed as a bribe. It's never been my experience a parent wanted anything in return for a gift but I would still prefer a card or letter that tells me exactly what I'm appreciated for (I have a collection of them that go back 19 years and I look at them when the job gets extra stressful to remind me why I'm in it.) Having said that, food is always a nice gift if you are extra appreciative."  (NOTE: It's actually NOT prohibited by the DOE)


"A gift card is like saying 'here's some cash but you can only spend it where or how the card allows.'  what if they want to send some extra money home?  or buy something second hand where they can't use a giftcard?"


“In our school, kids will often give something to their advisors, since those teachers are the ones who have the most interaction with the kids. Other students try to give something small to all of the subject teachers and specialists--a plate of cookies, a $5-10 coffee gift card, that sort of thing ("small" being subjective--I know that buying $10 gift cards for 7-10 teachers and specialists is well beyond my budget!) One idea that hasn't been done much at our school, but that I think my colleagues would enjoy, would be to send something for the faculty to leave in the office or the faculty lounge and share--maybe a cookie plate, or perhaps a selection of fresh fruit some morning--that way, you don't risk leaving anyone out or forgetting someone. You could check with the principal to make sure that would work. And, as always, a thoughtful note from your kid goes a long way (especially if it's been proofread!)”


“I work at a private school and the school policy is that faculty/staff are not allowed to accept cash gifts from parents. However, the PA sends out a gift to all faculty/staff. This year everybody received $250!!!! and I mean everybody from maintenance to security to secy assistants, TA everyone.”


“As a middle school teacher and also thinking to the many years in the future when my little guy is in middle school, I would suggest gift cards with a nice hand-written note of appreciation. Middle School teachers deal with a lot of drama and also content to ensure that your student is getting the enriching content to be successful beyond this year and also all the interperson stress of being in middle school. So maybe Starbucks cards or Barnes and Nobles or other gift cards that a teacher would love. Unless you really know the teachers and can better personalize, but at the same time that could get costly.”


“I'm a teacher and most parents that want to give gifts just do gift cards. Last year when I was pregnant some students and parents fave me baby stuff. Also, if kids or parents can't afford a gift, the best gift is always a heartfelt note from a student or parent telling us what we mean to them. Unfortunately, once you start teaching multiple classes, you often don't get appreciated (with cards, etc) the way you do when you teach elementary school.”


“As a middle school teacher, I have always thought that the best gifts are cards written by the kids with more than "happy holidays". Teachers rarely get thanked for their job, so a few earnest words in a card means the most. Attached to a home baked good or a small chocolate is always nice too.”


“I teach 6th grade at an independent school. Sometimes families give gifts -- Starbucks cards, L'Occitane hand cream, Kiehl's products -- but most of my students do not. I prefer not to receive them, though it's clearly a kind gesture. What is really nice is if the child writes a short note. "Thank you for being my teacher! Enjoy winter break!" Selfishly, there's no thank you note for me to write, and it's probably a better experience for the child.”


"The absolute BEST gift to receive is a card with a handwritten note from parent and/or child. If you want to go the distance, I loved receiving a photo from a class trip or school event. Also great to receive---a gently used but well loved book for the class library, inscribed by the student."


From parents:


“For Middle School I used to send cookies, bagels, chocolates to the office. Now in HS, for the teachers that have given recommendation I buy a personal gift, such as a thermos, scarf.”


“A card and a $5-10 Starbucks card for each teacher is a nice gesture.”


 "We always did a group gift certificate for the teachers (and the afterschool teachers) when my son was in preschool. It was from "the class" regardless of who contributed (though I think virtually all parents did contribute something). I think the rules are different for public school/DOE employees, and I'm not sure what I'll do now that my son is in kindergarten. Hope that helps."


“No $$, per handbook. But parents are being encouraged to send or bring in cards with written notes of appreciation.”


“My son is in 7th grade and we don't do teacher gifts anymore. Nor has anyone ever asked for a donation for one.”


"we always did a group gift certificate for the teachers (and the afterschool teachers) when my son was in preschool. It was from "the class" regardless of who contributed (though I think virtually all parents did contribute something). I think the rules are different for public school/DOE employees, and I'm not sure what I'll do now that my son is in kindergarten. Hope that helps!"


"I’ve always given gift certificates to Target or the TJX family of stores, and teachers seem to appreciate those. As for dollar amount, it probably depends on how long your child is at daycare / preschool during the week. $50 per teacher always seemed right to me (with 2-3 teachers in the room)."


"When my daughter was in daycare, I emailed all the families and collected cash for a gift card. Now that she’s in preschool, they have “class parents” and we do the same, collect cash and do a gift card. In my experience this is most appreciated that way they can do/buy what they wish. Hope that helps!"


In summary: A majority of teachers expressed how heartfelt notes go a long way. Gift cards with a personalized note seem to be the token of choice—but when your child has up to seven teachers, that can be quite costly, and one parent suggests a shareable treat that the whole faculty can enjoy in their staff room.


Related reading from Park Slope Parents:

Nanny Goodbye Gifts (including final compensation and pay)

Year End Gifts for Daycare Providers

Local Gifts That Keep Giving

Homemade Gift Ideas

For more details on other types of gifting, please check the PSP 2021 Tips Survey and see here for some more tips on tips from the PSP community.


Related reading from around the web:

For some interesting gift ideas, NY Times "What To Give The Teacher For the Holiday" has a few suggestions.

Rants from Mommy-Land: Truth about Teacher Gifts