What Teachers Really Treasure

Denise Trowbridge

Vickie Guay probably received enough candles and "World's Best Teacher" coffee mugs to fill the back of a pickup truck in her 30 years at St. Mary's School in Lancaster. She certainly loves that her students' parents thought about her every Christmas, but a few gifts stand out among all the rest.

"My favorite gift ever was a basket filled with a variety of homemade cookies, because it meant I didn't have to figure out when I could squeeze in the time to make my own cookies that year, and it was full of cookies I had never tried before," said the now-retired first-grade teacher.

One student even made a sign that said, "Mrs. Guay Rules!"

"I had it up in my classroom for years," she said.

The holidays are right around the corner, and many parents long to show their children's teachers how much we really appreciate them. The best way might not be what you expect. This year, skip the mugs and candles - unless you are 1,000 percent sure your teacher loves that - and opt for thoughtful homemade personal cards and gifts or gift cards. They're on most teachers' wish lists.

"One year, our classroom moms got together and collected money for a class gift. It was such a generous gift of gift cards, jewelry, a scarf and even some cash, too. They also had each student make a picture for us which they collected and made into a booklet. This booklet is what I treasure. I know it might sound strange but I loved it even more than the gifts," said Kristi Stumner, a teacher at BEARS Preschool in Upper Arlington.

Ditto from Stumner's teaching partner, Janice Walsh. "It's the thoughtful gifts that mean the most," she said. She has a special drawer where she keeps her "favorite cards I have received over the years. I do love the gift cards, but through the years I can't tell you who gave me a gift card, but I remember every personalized gift and I treasure them."

And, if your teacher has children of her own, sometimes well-planned gifts can be a treat for the whole family. Walsh once received a painted flowerpot with a Styrofoam ball on top filled with 50 Dum Dum suckers.

"It was one of my favorite gifts all year," Walsh said. "My own children couldn't wait to get their hands on it. The little girl had worked so hard on it, and I still have it in my kitchen."

If you aren't the crafty type, never underestimate the value of a gift card, especially for busy teachers who have their own children at home.

More and more parents opt for gift cards, "and I have to be honest that I do miss the occasional child-made gift or Christmas ornament. These are always heart-warming and make tree decorating a little more special," said Dee Knight, a teacher at Burbank Early Childhood School in Upper Arlington. But "as a busy mother of two," she said, "gift cards that can be used for the entire family are always nice."

When it comes to gifts, whether for a teacher or family member, it really is the thought that counts because, when it comes down to it, what we all want is someone to tell or show us they appreciate the hard work we do every day.

Denise Trowbridge is a self-professed money geek who writes about personal finance, banking and insurance for The Columbus Dispatch, bankrate.com and middlepathfinance.com