The school year is winding down, and there are a lot of mixed emotions surrounding the close to the academic year.


Students and teachers everywhere are rejoicing that, at least for a few weeks, virtual learning is on pause. Even for those who had a positive experience with virtual teaching and learning, a forced change is still something that causes stress, so the break is probably welcomed. This whole global pandemic-thing is not a contest; everyone in the world is dealing with it, and we are all handling it differently. But, I think we can honestly say that in our societal context, teachers were hit especially hard.

Related: CUAA education alumni share the inspiration for their careers in ‘Why I Teach’

Making the shift to virtual learning involves so much more than just teaching online, and since we’re all dealing with the brain fog that comes from back-to-back Zoom meetings and social distance grocery shopping, I will lovingly spare you the work of figuring out a thank you gift for the teacher in your life.

Follow these tips, my 6 Nos and Knows if you’re feeling lost when it comes to thanking that special teacher with a gift.

  1. Know Your Teacher.

    Friends, don’t overthink this. Teachers are normal people. Put yourself in their shoes: if you just completed a huge work project, how would you celebrate? How would you take time to rest? What kind of encouragement and feedback would fill you up? Would receiving a set of highlighters that said, “You’re the highlight of my year!” accomplish that? There is a good chance that you know what your teacher likes. Also, it’s okay if you have to ask them.

  2. Know your context.

    The way you gift might depend on the context you’re in. If you plan on giving a bigger or more expensive gift, that’s wonderful! Your teacher deserves it! Consider doing it privately. Many students care a lot about what their teachers think of them, and feeling like their gift isn’t as good as someone else’s could cause some insecurity, even though we know the teacher treats his or her students fairly. As a former teacher, I loved the one-on-one time with families who would stop by my classroom to drop off a gift or thank-you note or a verbal thank-you because I could show gratitude back to them in a genuine way.

  3. No Lotion.

    Absolutely not. Take your gloved-hand away from that vanilla bean-scented substance. (How are people even smell-testing lotions with masks on, anyway?) Lotion is one of those things that seems like a good idea at the time. Teachers do always have hand lotion in their desks, but steer clear of gifting them unless you’re absolutely certain that your beloved teacher loves the “Moonlit Path” scent and slathering purple lotion on his or her hands. Many teachers avoid having scented products in their classrooms due to their own allergies or student allergies, or simply because they don’t care for scented products. I know the mini-lotions that are 3 for $5 are so cute and convenient, but only take the bait if you’re sure your teacher enjoys that product.

  4. No Coffee Mugs.

    Every rule has an exception, so this rule’s exception is that if the mug is hilarious or deeply personal, it may be given. Not funny. HILARIOUS. Deeply personal could be a photo of a student and teacher, or a photo on the mug from a favorite field trip. Otherwise, mugs are a dime a dozen for teachers. Before you check Amazon or Etsy, your teacher probably already has a monogrammed tumbler or reusable drink container. If you find out your teacher’s reusable drink container is in poor repair, then it’s okay to gift a new one.

  5. Yes to the Handwritten Note.

    When it’s from the heart, it always wins. That’s it. Have your child think of a favorite memory or a specific reason he or she appreciated their teacher. Getting specific is always best. However, as a parent, I understand how challenging it can be to coach your child through an emotional and academic activity when you’re not their teacher. Know that if your child is doing his or her best, it’s always enough. Also, getting happy mail is fun, especially when you’ve been sheltering-in-place.

    Another option is the Recorded Parent/Guardian Video.  Thanks to technology, providing a heartfelt and personal thank you to your child’s teacher doesn’t even require you to wear pants. Recording a 30-second video for your child’s teacher allows you to get into the nitty-gritty a little more than you normally would if you were in the classroom with others around. A reflection such as “I noticed that my son really grew in _______ this year” really makes your thank you tangible, and teachers need to hear that. The same thing that was true for the kiddos is true for you, too- do your best. If it’s from the heart, it’s going to be great. But, please wear pants.

  6. No Man is an Island…so Gift Together!

    Full disclosure, this takes some coordination, but it will be worth it. A teacher friend of mine loves to work on weekend projects and build stuff around the house. His students know this about him and surprised him with Home Depot gift cards. Does your teacher like to garden? Go to the spa? Play a round of golf? Is she a huge NBA fan? How could you and a few classmates’ families collaborate to give your teacher something special? Again, technology is the real MVP here, because after ten minutes of texting, you could have one really epic present for your child’s teacher. One thing that’s nice about group gifting is that you can keep the amount each family donated private. This can free up diverse classrooms to give a great gift in an equitable way.

    Usually, group-gifting is financially easier than gifting solo, but if it’s not a feasible option for your family or community, consider the group thank-you. It’s a less tangible, yet more personal approach that could work out great for your teacher. Coordinate with other families to do a thank-you parade to your teacher’s house. Make sure he or she knows to be standing outside at the time. (This is a crucial step.) Note: this group-thank you can be a great add-on to any of the aforementioned ideas, and could be very useful on days when your kids need to get the wiggles out. Other takes on this idea would be to decorate your teacher’s driveway with chalk art or place a sign on his lawn.

Take these Nos and Knows with a grain of salt. Honesty is at the core of every good thank you, so if you can say or do something good and kind, that’s a wonderful foundation for thankfulness to abound. Experiencing a global pandemic stresses us all in our own ways, but the need for community has pushed many of us to step out and show gratitude in new ways.

This whole global pandemic-thing is not a contest; everyone in the world is dealing with it, and we are all handling it differently. But, I think we can honestly say that in our societal context, teachers were hit especially hard.

May we remember the hard work and ministry of presence our teachers brought to their students. Let’s carry this thankfulness with us as we continue to grapple with our collective new normal, especially when it comes to school.

Click here to learn more about Concordia Univesrsity Ann Arbor’s School of Education.

Vanessa Lane

— Vanessa Lane is the Outreach Coordinator for Graduate Education at Concordia University in Ann Arbor and can be reached at vanessa.lane@cuaa.edu. When she's not at work, she can be found taking her kids to the Hands On Museum or watching NBA basketball with her husband.

If this story has inspired you, why not explore how you can help further Concordia's mission through giving.