To those of you without school aged children, this tip can also apply to any sort of caregiver, daycare provider, etc. who likely spends more waking hours with your child than you do.
The end of a school year is a very natural time to let these special people know what they have meant to you and your child, and you don't necessarily have to spend a cent.
I promise you that the very best gift a teacher can receive is a heartfelt letter from you and your child outlining the best parts of the year, and what specific class trips, projects, units, and teacher's actions were memorable and helped to make the year positive. It has to be genuine, but hopefully your child's educator offered you something praise-worthy in 2010/2011!
If you insist on spending money, feel free to take a look at my What Teachers Really Want For Christmas article, but I swear: store-bought gifts are not the point.
I have several touching notes and cards that will forever remain in my "keep" file, because they mean so much to me, and give me the affirmation and strength I need to keep inspiring me in the classroom. This year, after sharing with parents that I was a little nervous about EQAO (our provincial standardized testing) one mom wrote me a beautiful letter about how she didn't care what the scores are, because I had provided her child with so much more than testing could ever show. (A tear-jerker, for sure!)
Yes, of course, we teachers are just doing our "jobs" (and here in Canada are paid very well for it) but "jobs" in this sector involve very personal and important relationships with your children, and a little bit of appreciation goes a long way.
I can guarantee at least fifteen* sets of parents that I have devoted my heart and soul (and many sleepless nights) to your children this year, and I'm surrounded by colleagues who have done the same.
On the flip side, I'd like to offer my own gratitude to the parents out there who make their child's education a priority: by checking and signing the agenda book, looking at homework, getting their child to school every day and on time, volunteering when possible, and communicating all concerns and questions. (My daughter is only finishing Junior Kindergarten and I already see that filling out the reading log and writing in the communication book takes effort!)
Forget gifts for the teacher: valuing education is one of the most important gifts you can give your own child.
* Yes, I only had fifteen students this year. Gotta love the primary class size cap!
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