Teacher gifts: Is cash trash or king?

Teachers, Can I have a show of hands?

Who likes cash gifts?

My seatmates and I debated whether cash is an appropriate gift. Jamie Gumbrecht (Access Atlanta authority on what to do and my personal tech advisor), database genius Matt Dempsey and I parted ways with the queen of cash, Atlanta Bargain Hunter blogger Rana Cash, Rana says money doesn’t take any thought. (Matt said he likes sacks of money for presents.)

I need some teacher gift ideas. I was thinking of writing checks, something I have never done.

Is that crass? I have bought a lot of classroom books over the years as teacher gifts, but think teachers could use the money this year to buy whatever they want for themselves or their class.

My teacher pals are divided. Some like gift cards but my stint as a consumer reporter made me swear off gift cards since so many never get used because recipients misplace them or their expire. Money is more reliable.

Let me know your thoughts.

76 comments Add your comment

pe teacher and mom of 2

December 16th, 2009
8:26 pm

Of course, it is always the thought that counts, but I do enjoy receiving gift cards. Cash might be ok, but I wouldn’t write checks. I don’t know why, but the thought of receiving a check just seems a little strange.


December 16th, 2009
8:46 pm

I taught for 15 years and received various gifts. ALL gifts are appreciated, even though there are those that simply were not to my liking.

I have a brass vase that was recycled into a prop for a story about a Genie ( sp) who pops out of a bottle. I DO have coffee mugs in use today, I have had them for over 20 years. There are ornaments on my tree that remind me of students in the 1980’s. I have a framed watercolor on my wall that was painted by a parent ( I knew) and the frame was paid for by a few other parents.

I also recommend a gift card for a book store, restaurant or service…even a gas card might be appreciated.

I personally give Starbuck’s cards or Chik Fil A certificates to 7 high school teachers. My last year!

I also have gone to Tuesday Morning and gotten several nice sets of matching paper plates, napkins and cups for each teacher. Nice to have if you do not want to do dishes or just need something fun to brighten your day.


December 16th, 2009
8:47 pm

my comment evaporated

Maureen Downey

December 16th, 2009
8:48 pm

Motherjanegoose, It’s up. And it’s great information. I love the matching paper products idea as that is something I would like myself.

20 year teacher

December 16th, 2009
9:27 pm

I teach high school and out of 128 students I’ll get a tray of fudge (really yummy), a bag of cookies (well done – some might say burnt), and a coffee cup. It is that time of year where high school teachers are jealous of younger grades teachers. I have a friend who takes the family SUV the last day before break to load up the gifts from her 3rd graders. So a gentle reminder to parents and students alike – cash, card, or burnt cookies – we all like to be appreciated.
As for a wish list – I love things that I am able to share with my spouse. Remember that behind every great teacher is a supportive spouse! Date night gift cards (movies or dinner) are awesome! It really means a great deal to my spouse when they are remembered, too. One year one of my clubs took up some money and sent us to a very nice dinner. It went a long way in saying “thanks” for the many weekends I would be away from the family on a club trip!


December 16th, 2009
9:33 pm

I teach third grade, and I love truely appreciate all gifts from my students. I like accepting cash, even as a gift, may have some ethical issues tied to it. Here are a few other ideas that I have received and LOVE:
-Most stores have photo souvenirs you can create using pictures from the class. (We just made journals for our teachers using a family picture from the family)
-Gift certificates to the movies-always great for us to use and relax.
-Gift cards for pedicures at a local nail salon.
-Gift cards to bookstores like Border’s, Barnes and Noble, etc.
-Handmade gifts that can be kepy for many years.

All gifts are appreciated, but never expected (I hope!) I would steer clear of cash.

MR. Antwine

December 16th, 2009
9:43 pm

I always thought money was what everyone wanted. It requires less thought on part of the giver, but it gives the receiver more freedom to shop around for whatever he or she wants.


December 16th, 2009
9:45 pm

I just wanted to weigh in on this post and say THANK YOU to the teachers who have posted above me…thank you for being appreciative of the gifts you are given. I can’t tell you how much I have been hearing lately about how teachers hate to get bath products, homeade gifts, etc. I am so refreshed that you all said that while you have your preferences, you appreciate anything a student gives you. I am a parent of a 1st grader and a pre-k child. My daughters don’t yet appreciate much about what a gift card is…but I’m trying to teach them about the joy of GIVING. They love to pick out actual, real gifts…In fact I just finished wrapping candles and chocolates for all of their teachers. Maybe when they’re older, we’ll switch to gift cards, but until then…I hope they see how happy it makes my daughters to give them these gifts.

To the point of the article…I think gift cards are a great gift…but I would find cash a little tacky, and a check downright awkward.

Wide Awake

December 16th, 2009
9:48 pm

I do not like to accept any type of cash from any of my students. However, I also do not accept gifts (although I like them) what I do is select a charity of the students liking and we try to use any gifts including monetary to donate as a class activity.

I feel very fortunate and would like to have others feel that way around the holidays.


December 16th, 2009
9:48 pm

what’s wrong with my post? It won’t show. My feelings are hurt :(


December 16th, 2009
9:51 pm

Check – weird
Cash – okay
Gift Card – best

If someone is so careless to lose a giftcard, that’s their problem.

Room Mom

December 16th, 2009
9:52 pm

At our elementary school we have the teachers fill out a survey called “These are a few of my favorite things”. There are different categories for them to list their favorites – like breakfast food, lunch foods, restaurants, flowers, candy, hobby – anything that would help families make gift choices for them. Having said that, I am contemplating giving my teacher cash this year because she implied that since her husband was in construction and since the teachers were furloughed this year that their house was under a little stress. I thought the cash might be appreciated. Should that make a difference?


December 16th, 2009
9:54 pm

I teach 8th grade. I would LOVE paper, pencils, tape, etc. I have bought all of those for my students this year (for my own sanity :) ). It would be nice if those same students/ parents gave back! But it doesn’t really matter, it’s just nice to know someone thought of you. I would say no to cash or check. It just rubs the wrong way. It seems a bit insulting; cash from an acquaintance feels like a hand out. We may not have the earning potential of other professions, but we are still professionals.


December 16th, 2009
9:56 pm

What are the federal or state guidelines for accepting presents? One would think a teacher should follow those.


December 16th, 2009
9:58 pm

Still won’t post. Maureen, what did I ever do to you? ;) Oh well.


December 16th, 2009
10:01 pm

I teach high school and the gifts I appreciate the most are handwritten cards from students. Gifts are nice but a few thoughtful words of appreciation are priceless.

AP teacher

December 16th, 2009
10:04 pm

I have been teaching high school a long time. I am always appreciative of students thinking about me.I teach in a poor community and I truly appreciate those gifts from the heart. Two of my favorite gifts did not cost a cent but they really meant a lot to me. Several years ago a student gave me a small rooted rosemary plant that she got from her grandmother’s yard. I now have a huge rosemary bush in my yard that I love and I always think about that child when I am cutting pieces off of it. I also always get letters and cards from students with the sweetest notes. I have kept every one and after twenty five years, I have a huge box of cards and notes. I always date the back and put the child’s entire name on it. When I have had a hard week or am low about all of the changes in education, I pull out that box and immediately refocus and remember why I love teaching. A note of appreciation from a child that is heartfelt means more to me than any other gift.


December 16th, 2009
10:06 pm

I am astounded by this. At our school the average teacher might get a half-dozen gifts, such as powder or a mug.

I teach the most financially disadvantaged. I wouldn’t want money, even in good times. What I LOVE, what really does it to me, is a note from the student or parent mentioning something they have enjoyed this year. Those are golden treasures from HEaven! You can put them away and pull them out on some awful grey day.

I especially treasure notes from students who are no longer in my room.

So, as for me, no money, no giftcards (there is an ethics law about what we can accept, which seems tacitly ignored). Write me a note. Give me a photo. Draw me a picture. Watch me melt.

I get most of the “good stuff” at the end of the year when I meet with my Latino parents to discuss their child’s progress. Virtually every time, I get a warm bouquet of praise and thanks, which I cherish.

BTW, when my own were in school we gave a little gift and wrote the note as well.

Tomorrow I am going to show a 4th grader the gift his momma gave me when she was in my kindergarten class! Oh, my!

middle school teacher

December 16th, 2009
10:10 pm

As a middle school teacher, I appreciate all the items that students bring to me. I write and mail a thank you to every student who shares with me from a handmade card to a gift card to Starbucks (which I pass on to my daughter who loves it!). I don’t think cash or checks are acceptable gifts for teachers. I agree with Teacher&mom in that the best gifts are those that express appreciation regardless of the level of cost.


December 16th, 2009
10:13 pm

Yes! Cash would be wonderful!!! Giving a teacher a choice to spend it on themselves or their classroom is a great idea!!!

Maureen Downey

December 16th, 2009
10:17 pm

rlee, It’s up. Not sure why that landed in the filter.

Mid-South Philosopher

December 16th, 2009
10:20 pm

I was a junior high (that shows my age) and high school teacher for 33 years. In the early days, I received some really nice gifts from students. However, as we moved on into the post-modern world, I began to decline gifts. The nature of school today is so impersonal and sterile that gifts, in my judgment, are inappropriate. Nothing in the Georgia Professional Standards provides for them. There are no questions about them on the Georgia CRCT. In fact, the folks out at the Georgia Professional Standards Commission (you know that group that is in charge of certificates and morals and junk) probably have a section of the Teacher Code of Ethics that are against teachers accepting gifts from students or their parents…certainly for a religious holiday like Christmas!

Mrs. Warren

December 16th, 2009
10:22 pm

My mom is a teacher and she is so blessed to receive lots of really great gifts each year. She has received a variety of things but I think gift cards are the best. She gets Target gift cards, Visa gift cards and spa certificates a lot. Those are the things she uses. Everything else tends to sit around in a drawer somewhere but the good thing is she always remembers who gave it to her, even decades later. When I become a parent I will probably give gift cards. I think teachers deserve to treat themselves to something special like the spa or a nice dinner. Teachers should not expect gifts but I think its absolutely ok for them to know that they deserve them! My friend is a ballet teacher and the school had to tell the parents to stop buying Ballerina ornaments for them. Now she gets about $100 worth of Starbucks cards each Christmas.


December 16th, 2009
10:23 pm

I agree with Teacher&mom. While the gift cards, lotions, and baked goodies are appreciated, I really enjoy the homemade cards (or a nice note) and even “holiday” ornaments. I love being able to go back and read the notes from my former students.


December 16th, 2009
10:29 pm

As a teacher, I love all gifts from my students. However, in today’s climate, I’d be a little afraid to accept a gift of cash. The Code of Ethics doesn’t specifically state that a monetary gift would be a violation of the Remunerative Conduct standard but it does seem like you’d be edging into that gray area. We are so closely scrutinized in today’s climate and it is a very short trip from a cash gift to a bribe (depending on who is telling the story). It is much harder to make a case that a teacher changed a grade, altered test scores, or turned a blind eye to discipline over a Target gift card, ornament, or gift certificate to a local restaurant.

If you’re looking for something different to give this year… consider a yearly membership to a state or national professional association like the Georgia Science Teacher Assocation, Georgia Council of Teachers of Mathematics, Georgia Reading Association, etc. Most of these memberships include access to resources, newsletters, and discount rates on conference registration. We have to pay for these memberships ourselves and with our paychecks getting smaller, they become a luxury that most of us choose to give up.


December 16th, 2009
10:29 pm

We cleaned out my husband’s Grandmother’s house a while back.She taught first grade for 40 years….She had every gift from every kid she had ever taught…It was hard to cleanout. Some of the gifts were from WWII andthe depression.


December 16th, 2009
11:12 pm

My mom was a middle school teacher for 40 years and the best gifts she got was the appreciation from her students at how hard it was to teach some of them. For my kids teachers, we’ve given them something from the kids. It’s hard to show a personal touch when you give a gift card or cash. The best gifts we give DON’T attach to holidays. It’s the constant, consistent support that is given throughout the year.
Long after the holiday is over, teachers need to feel appreciated for their efforts.

Matt the Brave

December 16th, 2009
11:21 pm

My wife, mother, and two grandmothers are teachers, and I don’t think that they have ever recieved cash ever. (My Mom has been teaching since 1987, my wife since 2003.) In general, any gift is appreciated. Some have been recycled as other gifts, some as props, and others to other teachers who wanted them more. Cash seems weird, sort of impersonal; it could certainly be considered a bribe… We have always used our gift cards almost immediately.


December 16th, 2009
11:26 pm

With furloughs and funding cutbacks being what they are today, cash gifts for teachers are completely acceptable. The average teacher spends about $500 a year out of pocket on her classroom. At my school, teachers get one printer inkjet cartridge and one case of paper per year — anything above that, we pay for ourselves! So yes, there is no ethical issue with cash gifts. A great alternative to cash is an American Express gift card. Personalized cards and letters are treasures I save forever, but practical gifts are highly valued too in these tough times and truly do help.


December 16th, 2009
11:35 pm

When my kids were in elementary, we always bought a book for the class – as a future science teacher, I’m sure it wasn’t unusual that they tended to be science-themed books, lol!

As a middle school teacher now, I, too, sometimes feel envious of the elementary teachers, but I know when my kids were in middle and high, they generally didn’t want to give gifts, except to certain teachers. I now wish I had made them do something for everyone – even if it was writing a nice note or giving them cards. If nothing else, I wish I had sent in extra supplies – this is the time of year things start to run out.

Like others have stated, I have always appreciated everything I have received from hand written note to photo albums and gift cards. I think those that complain about coffee mugs and bath sets are the type of people who complain about any gift from anyone – please don’t hold that against teachers! I have never received cash or check, but I would feel awkward. I have received gift cards – Starbucks and Borders are my absolute favorites! I’ve received homemade candy and baked goods and, despite others’ warnings, all get eaten (and no ill effects have ever been experienced)! This year, I did announce to my students that I didn’t expect gifts, but if they really wanted to buy me something, I would love stuff for the class – hand sanitizer – air freshener – paper – tissues! Go with the holiday theme if you like!


December 16th, 2009
11:43 pm

I would not give cash although I’m with you in that I really do not like gift cards unless I know for sure that person will use it. Last year each student in my son’s grade (private school so about 60 kids), donated $5-20 (or none, it wasn’t mandatory). I pooled all the money and was able to purchase gift cards for a date night (restaraunt and movie gift cards) for each of their 4 main teachers and then a Wal-mart card with the left over money to purchase classroom supplies. I got huge kudos from each teacher because collectively we were able to give them something of ’substance’ instead of a dozen ornaments and a handful of $5 Starbucks cards. Plus the Wal-mart card for supplies was like putting money in their pocket without giving it to them since they would have spent the money anyway. It did take quite a bit of effort to coordinate and collect money so I decided I just couldn’t take on that task this year. I will say giving gifts is much more prevalent in private schools and certainly more so for the elementary teachers. I can’t ever remember giving my teachers anything more than an ornament or something small as a child and certainly never anything beyond middle school.

The year before last I bought personalized note pads for each of my son’s teachers. I want to say they were in the neighborhood of $3 each and I wrapped them up with a pen and a thank you note from our family. It definitely is harder on the middle and high school level because I feel cheap giving a $5 gift but when multiplied by 7, it’s more than what I used to give my son’s elementary teachers (I usually had a $25 budget).


December 17th, 2009
12:04 am

Gifts for teachers? Why not just a word of thanks? What other state employees routinely get gifts…do you give your local police officer a Christmas gift? What a spoiled bunch!


December 17th, 2009
12:19 am

Thank you and appreciation notes from students are the best gifts ever. I can look at those and remember the student, where they sat, and how much they improved over the course of the school year. I proudly display them and notice that new students look at them too. Thank you to all of my students and parents who have written such kind words to me. They also serve as a source of motivation.


December 17th, 2009
12:33 am

The seven furlough days to be imposed on the teachers by the state before the end of this school year will amount to a $1500 average loss per teacher. That’s what happens when you elect panderers for local ‘leadership.’

Yes, give them five bucks for a meal – call it an apology as well as a Christmas present.


December 17th, 2009
12:51 am

I don’t need or expect presents from my students. Just send them to school well rested, clean, and ready to learn. That would be the best gift of all.


December 17th, 2009
1:34 am

With all the ethics issues for educators I am not sure a teacher would be comfortable accepting a cash gift, I wouldn’t. With the teachers being furloughed a goody bag of school supplies that teachers usually have to buy out of pocket would be nice. I have done that for my daughter’s teachers and included an inexpensive bath set. Too many times teachers (at least at the elementary level I teach) are providing the basic essentials of crayons, pencils and paper. Gift certificates are also nice. Of course like many other teachers I don’t expect a gift.


December 17th, 2009
3:22 am

There are some that may think that cash does not require thought or is crass I say that the purpose of the gift is to show appreciation and that cash accompanioned with a card explaining the reason for cash is more than sufficient


December 17th, 2009
4:06 am

Since you will not allow the discussion about Christmas in the classroom what makes you think you deserve gifts for this non existent holiday?

Old School

December 17th, 2009
5:02 am

Over my 36 years of teaching, I’ve gotten a few gifts but one will always stand out. The mother of a particularly challenging young man sent him to my class with the perfect gift: a tiny metal pillbox and small bottle of Tylenol. The Tylenol came in handy that day and several following days and I still use the little pillbox daily.

A cute hatbox that originally held homemade cookies still serves as my sewing box. My favorite gifts of all are the quick hugs and unexpected thank yous from students.

And rid0617, we still wish each other Merry Christmas around my home, school, and community. Gifts happen. I’ve never thought I “deserved” any gift although the “gift” of a student’s interest, effort, and attention would be really nice and make my job of preparing him or her for the working world a little easier.


December 17th, 2009
5:06 am

I don’t recieve much (I teach Connections in middle school) but what I do get, I love.


December 17th, 2009
5:24 am

Like another person above, I filled out a PTSA survey at the beginning of the school year that listed some of my favorite snacks, places to eat out and places to shop. This holiday, the parents of my students gave money to our room mom who put together a gift basket that contained things from the list I had made. It is simply awesome! I’m looking forward to taking my family out to eat, we get to nibble on the treats in the mean time and I get to buy a few things for myself from my favorite stores….a truly wonderful gift.


December 17th, 2009
5:29 am

I teach 3rd grade, and many of my students have been (like all of us) adversely affected by tight times. That said, I emailed my parents and told my students that the best gift they can ever give me is a picture they draw or a poem they write. I have always had this policy, even when times weren’t so tight. :-)


December 17th, 2009
6:23 am

Cash seems to be a bit of an ethical challenge to me, not that anyone has offered me any. High school teachers don’t get as many presents, but as with others, my favorites are hand-written notes and cards.

Gift cards from an office supply store, bookstore, or Walmart would work for classroom supplies.


December 17th, 2009
7:22 am

What are gift cards but plastic cash (perhaps a little more targeted)?


December 17th, 2009
7:36 am

Dinner for two at a nice restaurant. These teachers need a relaxing night not grading papers or filling out college recommendation forms.


December 17th, 2009
8:56 am

I don’t get many gifts since I teach in a low income area, however I always appreciate anything that I receive. I personally don’t like gift cards so those little notes of thanks really mean a lot.

Georgia Teacher

December 17th, 2009
9:00 am

I have no problem with gifts, no matter how small.

Yesterday, I received a note from a student telling me how much I meant as a teacher to her.

That was better than cash… not to say cash is not appreciated.

high school teacher

December 17th, 2009
9:05 am

Wow, there are lots of different expectations in the way of gifts. This year we gave the boy’s teachers a bag with 2 12 oz cokes, 2 bags of popcorn, an extra-large personal size bag of M&Ms, and a $5 gift card to Blockbuster for a stay-at-home movie night.

I am appreciative of any gift that I receive, but I would feel awkward receiving cash or a check.

Current parent, former teacher

December 17th, 2009
9:07 am

When I was a teacher I loved every gift I received and I still have many of them today. I taught music, so I have ornaments for my tree, coffee mugs, etc with musical themes. But, like many above, I really appreciated homemade gifts and those wonderful notes of appreciation.
I have a daughter who is in high school and we make homemade cookies for the teachers and staff every year.
Please remember the support staff, along with the teachers: the secretaries, administration, etc. Also, if it’s possible, see if parents at the school will each chip in a little cash donation for the custodians and cafeteria workers. They make VERY LITTLE money and work so hard and a monetary gift for them is really appreciated! If everyone gives just a little it all adds up.


December 17th, 2009
9:08 am

Here’s a site for some ideas to pair books with gifts.

I appreciate every gift I get. Gift cards are especially nice, because I can use them to have a nice night out with my husband or family (or get a great book to read!). But when times are tight, a drawing from one of my students with a note telling me how much the parents appreciate my work is the best gift of all.