In Search of the Perfect Teacher Gift

quilted drawstring bag 8b

The end of the school year is, once again, upon us.  On the one hand: oh, thank goodness, I am SO relieved to not have to get up at the crack of whenever.  On the other: so much less time to get stuff done!  It seems a cruel trade-off, that we have to get up at an unholy hour in order to accomplish more during the day, but there it is.

quilted drawstring bag 1

Our children have had an exceptionally good year this school year, for which I am absurdly grateful.  Our third grader struggled last year with her teacher, who didn’t seem to love kids that age and didn’t seem terribly emotionally invested in the well-being of my child in particular.  She was a kind individual, but second grade was NOT her jam.  This year has been a 180-degree difference, and my child’s teacher adores her (and the whole class) and has been an incredible influence for the good.  Which came in extra helpful as we battled Mean Girl issues (already?!? in THIRD GRADE?!?)

Our boy went to public school for the first time, and I wasn’t sure how that would go.  Quite honestly, I thought he’d rebel and we’d end up homeschooling him.  But he LOVES school, and his teacher is the perfect fit for him: firm but kind, and very engaged with who each of the children in her class is becoming.

The youngest is finishing her last year of preschool, and I find I am very, very sad about that.  No more babies in our house.  She is a delight, and her teachers have encouraged and celebrated her–without fussing over her or indulging her. It’s a delicate balance with a kid who has a big smile and lots of charm, to like them and enjoy them without spoiling them, and they’ve been so, so good at it.

quilted drawstring bag 2

So may of us have hunted for houses in particular neighborhoods because the schools are “good” there.  It adds a whole zero to the end of the cost of some houses, being in the “right” school zone.  But study after study has indicated that it isn’t the SCHOOL that matters in your child’s education, it’s the CLASSROOM TEACHER.  You can be in the “worst” school, according to statistics, and if you have a classroom teacher who cares about and engages with and invests in your child individually and specifically, their success–by any measure–is markedly and quantitatively improved.  The influence of the classroom teacher cannot be overstated, and it works in both directions: a teacher who has a negative influence can damage a child’s success and opinion of schooling to the same degree that a teacher with a positive influence can improve it.

quilted drawstring bag 3

Like a lot of parents, I want to recognize the teachers who have been so great–and, if we’re being honest, reward and…is bribe too strong a word? them to continue teaching.  On average, the teachers with the highest ratings, both in their professional evaluations and by the parents of their students or by the students themselves, are the most likely to leave the profession in the first five years.  Half of all teachers leave in the same time span, but notably the ones who are more effective are the most likely to go.  GREAT TEACHERS LEAVE TEACHING.  And when you have children still in school, that should scare you.

I don’t know about you, but I’m not above a little hand-made bribe.  Not for special treatment for my kids specifically, but to give teachers a boost and remind them that what they do makes an enormous impact and does not go un-noticed.

quilted drawstring bag 5

I taught public school for nearly ten years.  I got my share of teacher gifts.  I was grateful for every single one, I sent thank you notes, and I hugged every child who took the time to remember me during the year–and gifts are NOT my love language, so that was tough work for me.  Having said that…I did not need another coffee mug.  Right?  Coffee and tea drinkers, back me up: you have a favorite mug.  You do not need a dozen mugs.

I did not need a plate of cookies.  Teaching involves a lot of baked goods, y’all.  I appreciated the hand-made effort, I did.  I was grateful.  But then I felt guilty when they got stale and sat un-eaten for a week, and eventually I was forced to throw them out.  It felt disrespectful and unworthy of the gift.  Except…I did not need a plate of cookies.

I did not need a Hallmark gift that says “#1 Teacher,” even though I would blush at the idea that anyone would think of me that way, with pleasure and pride.  There is only so much shelf space to display such a thing, and I was low on shelf space in an already crowded classroom that I shared with at least one other teacher.  I still own every single item I was ever gifted that said “#1 Teacher,” because I treasure them (and wrote the student’s names who gifted them to me on the back, so I would never forget), but I have yet to build a shelf in my home to display them all.

The gifts that I love best are the ones that were MADE for me.  I have a small triangle that was spray painted and signed in Sharpie.  It’s humble, but it includes a message from a student that she composed herself.  It says, “You’re a Star to Me.”  She made it in Tech Theater class, with the power tools, and we both giggled when she gave it to me.  It’s a treasure.

I have a sign on a piece of painted plywood with a sheet of beaten copper nailed to the front with a “Best Teacher” message across it.  One of the students when I did my teaching internship made it for me in art class, by hand, each letter beaten in one by one, and the whole class planned a secret party at the end of my tenure there to present it to me.  I adore it, and remember those kids like it was yesterday (even though it was 1997, and they all probably are parents by now–gah!)

quilted drawstring bag 4Handmade gifts make an impact.  And an impact is my GOAL: teachers change the world, and if keeping great teachers teaching is something I can do by sewing or crafting for them, then SEWING can change the world, indirectly.  I’m all up on that action.

So here’s the question: what’s the PERFECT teacher gift?  The pouches in these images are lined drawstring bags with quilted bottoms–I made them at Camp Stitchalot to give as gifts (for birthdays, not to teachers), and can easily make more.  (The pattern was an ad hoc from that weekend, but Jeni Baker has something very similar on her blog.)  Is this useful for a teacher?  Should I ask my children to craft something out of clay?  Would a teacher prefer a Sew Together Bag or a small quilt?

If you had two weeks before the end of school, and wanted to make something handmade but of a reasonable level of effort to thank your children’s teachers for their investment in your family, what project would you make?  Add your comments below–ideas or links–and I’ll compile them into a list to share early next week!

You Might Also Like

  • Michael Ann
    May 11, 2015 at 11:24 am

    I love this idea to round up great teacher gifts! (And love that you’re focusing on handmade, isn’t something handmade and heartfelt always the best to receive?) I just released a pattern for a little zipper case called the Tiny Box Zippy, and already a couple people have told me they made them for teacher gifts. One person used the cotton and steel pencil print, hello adorable! Here’s the link, or you can look up #tinyboxzippy on insta. Good luck everyone!

  • Melissa Irvin
    May 11, 2015 at 11:44 am

    Zippered pouches are all the rage now and they are ALWAYS useful!! So many options there.

    I know whatever you create will be well-loved by the recipients.

  • Hanne
    May 11, 2015 at 12:58 pm

    it’s lovely to read how much thought you put into ose gofts. What I like the most as a teacher is supplies for the classroom, something special we don’t have the budgets for (let’s say shrink foil, or an artbook, no,need for expensive stuff!) or something handmade such as zipper pouches or fabric baskets…are all great options.
    Or a fabric crown for the kids who are celebrating their birthday where you can attach their age with velcro?
    I’m an art teacher and I love each and every gift I receive, since fundings for my program aren’t very high! The fact that you put so much thought into this gift giving is amazing. I’m very excited to see what you decide on making!

  • Carri Ramsey
    May 11, 2015 at 1:33 pm

    Well I will say that I only have one kiddo still in elementary school (the older ones don’t want to give teacher gifts and have so many teachers) but my plan is to make a personalized Sew Together bag for his teacher. I will fill it with some standard supplies and I hope it will be appreciated.

  • Sarah J.
    May 11, 2015 at 1:54 pm

    My preschool daughter and I are in the process 😉 of making zipper pouches for her teachers (she deemed all 7 teachers she can possibly interact with at her school as worthy of gifts- who am I to say “no”!?). I sewed in the zipper and she chose fabrics, ironed on interfacing (with much nervousness on my part), and is sewing the perimeter. We then tucked in a pack of “thank you cards” as we receive many from these teachers and I can only imagine how many they go through and at what cost! Can’t wait for more ideas- my son will attend this school for the next 2 years and I don’t want to give the same things again!

  • Laura J.
    May 11, 2015 at 1:57 pm

    My husband is a teacher, and I can definitely vouch for the No More Mugs thing! He doesn’t drink coffee or tea. He is also not very sentimental, and little trinkets don’t make sense to him. This may be more particular to male teachers, of course. His favorite gifts are gift cards (especially entertainment-related — iTunes, movie tickets, things to use on his down time) and consumable things like supplies — hand sanitizer, tissues, pens and markers, etc. Since the school system doesn’t provide enough, I am forever buying tissues and hand sanitizer for a bunch of kids not my own!!! Strangely, he does also have a treasured collection of really bad drawings that his students have done — portraits of him! They crack him up, even when they’re not very nice.

  • charlotte m.
    May 11, 2015 at 4:39 pm

    I agree about the zippered pouches. Always useful in any size.

  • Chiska
    May 11, 2015 at 5:00 pm

    This is my go to teacher gift:

    It’s a relaxing neck pillow and every teacher I’ve made them for has loved them. Once you have the pattern made it’s really fast to make them especially when you use ribbons like they suggest. I’ve some with fabric handles too and while it takes slightly longer it’s still pretty fast. Last year we made them for some of their “Specials” teachers as well. We have an extra special teacher to do for this year as she was my daughter’s teacher last year as well as this and she will be leaving town at the end of the year. I’ve already made the neck pillow and given her a pretty crystal prism, so I’m looking forward to reading others suggestions.

  • Naomi
    May 11, 2015 at 5:01 pm

    I was a music teacher for four years before I had kids and started an at home piano and voice studio but I agree homemade gifts were one of my favorites. (Or maybe it was the chocolate truffle balls, insert company name here, that I got every christmas from the same student. 🙂 )
    Although I loved homemade gifts my least favorite one was the cookie plates at
    Christmas in which every cookie no matter the kind tasted like peanut butter and like you said would sit and go stale. However, I did love the sweet little girls who gave them to me and I would make sure to take them home before throwing them out!
    I love these bags though. I also think one of those homemade lunch bags that are waterproof would be an awesome gift.

  • Diane
    May 12, 2015 at 9:19 am

    Like the overkill fruit basket in A Christmas Story, Jeff made Heidi’s teachers steel and tile tiny tables. They’ll outlive all of us. She went to a school where everyone was more affluent than we, so handcrafted seemed the way to go.

    I did pillow covers for our Supper Club group at Christmas.
    It doesn’t really matter what the Thing is, handmade is what’s important.

  • Tammy
    May 14, 2015 at 7:52 pm

    A zippered hand sewn pouch or gift card would be such a welcome gift, as opposed to the standard mug and chocolates or #1 teacher gift.

  • Handmade Teacher Gift Round-Up | Whipstitch
    May 21, 2015 at 11:31 am

    […] team players!  A bunch of you had some really great suggestions for end-of-year gifts for teachers, and I loved what you had to share.  I loved that some of you […]

  • Jennifer O.
    June 2, 2015 at 3:34 pm

    It sounds like you’ve got some great ideas! I’m not a teacher, though I know some great ones, but I did teach Sunday School for a few years, and based on that I would agree with no mugs and add no candles. So many candles.