My kids have outgrown the time for giving teacher gifts at school. But a post from rocksinmydryer on "Getting Practical About Teacher Gifts" reminded me of gift-giving strategies at my their elementary school: parents can control their spending but accommodate teachers’ wishes. These tips may work for you and your school, public, private, or home.  

Easy as 1-2-3 Gift Giving

1. Teachers share their likes. Each year (or whenever it suits them), teachers fill out a form that indicates their preferences in categories such as: Favorite Restaurant, Favorite Snacks, Favorite Beverage, Classroom Wish List, and a even Big Item they’d love to have.

2. Preferences are placed in a notebook, alphabetized by teacher, and kept in a common area at the school. In my kids’ school, the book was placed in the PTA corner where volunteer information was available, such as name tags or a notebook to record volunteer hours. Any time parents happened to be at the school, they could look through the book, find and jot down the specifics of teacher’s preferences.
3. Parents and room parents consult the notebook for ideas for gifts, large and small.  Parents who want to give a teacher a special treat could buy a gift certificate to his or her favorite restaurant or send in the teacher’s favorite candy, for example. Room parents might choose from classroom wish lists such as throw pillows for a reading nook or tools for the class garden. 
One year, a new teacher listed a rocking chair as one of her dreams for her classroom. The room parent asked for interest from parents and decided that he could buy the chair for $100 with a $5 donation from 20 parents. The teacher was thrilled with the gift.
1-2-3 gift giving works for birthdays, holidays, teacher appreciation days, and end-of-year celebrations.
This technique can also be applied to book fairs. Teachers review the titles and make a book wish list on index cards available to parents and students who visit the book fair. Parents can buy the book, mark it off the list (so that teachers wouldn’t get duplicate books), and have their children give the book to their teachers.
If your school hasn't yet put together teacher preference forms, you might consider giving:
  • gift cards to Target or office supply stores; teachers can select their own gifts or purchase classroom supplies rather than using their own money;
  • volunteer support  (during which time you may discover teacher needs);
  • a personal note of appreciation (mentioned in the "Getting Practical" post and something I have done in the past), which is especially suitable for teacher appreciation day or end-of-year thanks.

The Perfect Gift?

I think most parents want to give their children's teachers (and everyone else in their lives) the perfect gift. What many teachers would love to have are students who are responsible, respectful, and eager to learn.