Ah, the perfect gift. Does it actually exist? According to many educators, it does!
We asked NEA members to tell us on Facebook about their most memorable gifts from students. Their answers were funny, touching, and heartwarming. It was not about the money spent (or not spent) on these gifts, but about the thoughtfulness behind them.
Of course, educators really want only one present for our work. And that is: the gift of playing a role in cultivating a student’s lifelong love of learning and witnessing breakthroughs in growth as we do our best to connect with every student who boards a school bus, walks into a classroom, sings in choir, or ambles across a campus.
But still…aren’t you just a little bit curious about the gifts from our list? Many educators told us about wonderful notes they’d gotten. Others mentioned gifts of the waist-expanding kind: banana cream pie, Dominican specialties, homemade biscuits with chocolate gravy. (Yum!)
Kelly McCarthy Mascaro: I was pregnant on bed rest. I went into school the day before the break and found a note that said, “Mrs. Mascaro, I don’t have any money to buy you a gift, so I cleaned your desk. Merry Christmas!”
Debi George: The students in a club that I sponsored surprised me with a life-sized cardboard cutout photo of me so that I could be in two places at once.
Marti Alvarez: A simple thank-you from one of my high schoolers at the end of the year. I said good morning to him every day that I drove the bus and sometimes he even scowled at me, never answered. I knew he was going through something deep. On the last day of school, he stepped in front of my seat and told me his mother had left the family and he felt lost. He felt happy to hear good morning each day.
Emily Zoellmer: It wasn’t at Christmas, but the greatest gift I received from a student was after my dad, a retired science and social studies teacher and park ranger, died. My student bought a tree to be planted in his memory. I got a certificate and everything. My dad planted hundreds of trees in his lifetime, so this was perfect.
Valerie Chuchman: A personalized Santa hat with our school mascot.
Marilyn Wing: I taught students from Haiti in a bilingual program. When school was about to be dismissed for the Christmas Break they spontaneously got up and began to run around the room hugging one another, shaking hands, and wishing each other Merry Christmas. Just watching that go on was such a great gift!
Linda A. Zeiler: After my house was burglarized, my third-graders bought me new earrings!
Suzanne Gall Butler: I received a hand-painted portrait of my golden retriever, done by a second-grade student, in a frame made by his grandfather.
John Seybold: It came about a year late—a Green Bay Packers blanket. They were out of stock. Within six months, the student passed away from cancer.
Shari Landrus Ellingsen: One year I had students bringing me presents each day during the week before Christmas. I had one little boy whose family had little money (I had hooked him up earlier with a winter jacket). I certainly didn’t expect a gift from this child, but on the last day, he came up to me and slipped a quarter into my hand. I looked at him and asked what the quarter was for and he smiled and said, “t’s for you.” He looked so proud of himself. Usually, my response would be, “Oh honey, I can’t take your money. You need to keep it.” In this instance it dawned on me that to deny this child’s quarter, this gift, would have been rude. It was clearly meant to be my Christmas present from him. It was all he could give me. I’ve received some very silly and some very nice gifts in the years since, but none was ever given with more heart and none has ever meant as much as that simple quarter.
Reyna Dawn Sigurdson: My first student I worked with on the autism spectrum, primarily non-verbal with some echolalic speech and scripted functional communication. When I was telling my educational assistant that I had been accepted into the Peace Corps and was going to the Philippines, he looked at me and said, “I’ll miss you, Reyna.” Best gift ever. Got me into the field of autism.
Barbara J. Neihouse: A personalized “Hogwarts wasn’t hiring so I teach muggles instead’ mug. I use it every day.
Mary Lee Ruch: A tiny little key with a note stating it was a key to heaven. Received it in 1979 and I still have it.
Kim Smythe: A pair of leggings with gnomes that my first grade student bought with her OWN money! Such a sweet gift!
Holly Irene Oler: A bottle of used perfume! The story behind it was simple…the fifth grade boy lost his mom that previous year and he said I reminded him of her so he wanted me to have her favorite perfume. I wore that perfume every day that year. I was honored and so humbled.
Ash Elizabeth: A homemade trophy. The sweetest gift ever.
Patty Scully: Two quarters from the Tooth Fairy for pulling out her wiggly tooth!
Will Gibson: A clay gargoyle of my face. Always wondered how to interpret that one.
Lizzy Liz: a pair of size 22 stretchy pants. I could have fit my whole body in one leg!
Kathie Bettencourt Lemieux: We did a lot of cooking in my first grade class one year and for Christmas they gave me cooking equipment for the classroom along with a homemade cookbook of their favorite recipes from home. It brought tears to my eyes and I still use it today.
Kathleen Kinney: A mashed up Twinkie (in the wrapper, before they went out of business and came back), taped to a handwritten card, from a sixth-grader. My classes knew how much I loved Twinkies because every word problem had a Twinkie theme!
Dolores Angerstein: After winter break I had a first-grader drag a Christmas tree he found in the alley to school to give to me.
Tim Graham: ELECTRIC COFFEE MUG WARMING PLATE. I’d always laugh at my sipping cold coffee all the time, so a thoughtful student gave me the gift of warm coffee all morning. That was almost 25 years ago. I still have it. I STILL USE IT!
Nicole Marie: Just the other day. One of my kiddos gets her lunch out and she had an extra container, along with a note. It was a delicious traditional Uzbekistan food called osh, and it was amazing! I like trying another culture’s food, and it happened to be the only day I forgot my own lunch!
Fernelize Henry: A t-shirt that says “I love history” that a student got from a trip to Washington, D.C. and a dozen roses from a student on her graduation day. She told me that she never would have made it without me.
Stephanie Jacobsen Schuler: A rubbing of my cousin’s name from the Vietnam Memorial. A former student was in Washington, DC on an eighth-grade class trip. I was his third-grade teacher and always read “The Wall” on Veterans Day, and told him about my cousin. I can’t believe he remembered that!
Saila Saari: I had a former student come back to visit me and he told me, “Thank you for caring about me when I did not care about school.”
Shari Krause: A set of small stones on which he wrote important words in my life! Important to me because he listened to my life’s parables often used to teach a lesson.
Jackie Edwards: A letter from one of my students expressing how much I am appreciated and how I taught her how to take ownership in her learning! I cried.
Donna Sennert: Graduation invites from students. I no longer teach, but sub full-time so it shows that I am still making a difference.
Debi: A snowman tea candle. The student saved her allowance for a month, walked to Goodwill, and picked it out herself because she knew I loved snowmen. I still have it after 10 years and put it up in my classroom every winter.