Atlanta high school teacher Carrie Dean gratefully receives plenty of gifts from her students during Teacher Appreciation Day and, more informally, Teacher Appreciation Week. But one of her favorites came in the form of a single sheet of paper that arrived in the mail.

It was a copy of a former student’s graduation diploma.

“I mentored a male student who was heavily affiliated with gangs,” Dean recalled. “He eventually left but then returned to the school years later to show me a copy of his grades, and he mailed me his diploma.”

It was “by far my favorite gift,” she said, explaining that it validated her efforts to inspire students to be better and do better.

Dean isn’t alone in singling out a unique and thoughtful gift as her favorite among the many presents she has received in her decade-long teaching career.

Personal cards topped the list of favorite presents in a 2015 Chick-fil-A survey of Georgia teachers, followed by classroom supplies like copy paper and dry-erase markers as well as gift cards for restaurants and spa services.

It’s the Thought that Counts

“We don’t expect gifts — especially expensive gifts— but we certainly appreciate the thoughtfulness and the time spent on heartfelt, handwritten notes or handmade crafts,” said Sue Wray, a teacher in Cedartown, Ga. Some of Wray’s favorite gifts include handcrafted bookmarks etched with sayings of encouragement and a bracelet a student made especially for her.

Other notable gifts singled out by the teachers included: a bowling gift certificate for four people; an engraved crystal ball; gift cards for coffee, Chick-fil-A and Office Depot; a Tervis Tumbler and chocolate — lots of chocolate. One year, Carrie Dean’s students presented her with a basket of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and other treats accompanied by a card of appreciation. She loved that they noticed her love for the sweet treats and found a way to turn it into a thoughtful gift.

High school teacher Sandee Beard still uses a Vera Bradley tote bag she received from a student ten years ago. Gina Reilly, a teacher at Cedartown High School, treasures a wooden doorstop made in construction class by a student who noticed that her classroom door wouldn’t stay open. “He wrote: ‘To Mrs. Reilly’ with his name on it. It was so thoughtful,” she said.

Teacher Appreciation Day Goes National

Teacher Appreciation Day is believed to have originated in Arkansas in 1944, according to the National Education Association. Mattye Whyte Woodridge, an English teacher who led a local annual celebration of teachers at Eliza Miller High School in West Helena, Ark., began championing the idea of expanding it to a national day. Her pleas eventually reached Former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, who lobbied Congress to declare the first official National Teacher Day in 1953.

This year Teacher Appreciation Day falls on May 5. The larger Teacher Appreciation Week is celebrated at schools across the country during the first full week of May. Students are encouraged to bring flowers and other small gifts to acknowledge their teachers. Some schools hold special breakfasts or assemblies for the entire faculty.

The etiquette surrounding Teacher Appreciation gifts varies widely. Entire Etsy and Pinterest pages are devoted to unique gift ideas, from personalized fountain pens to leather lunch sacks filled with handmade pecan pralines.

A group present is always an effective way to get all the students in the class to participate without turning it into an individual competition, notes Debby Mayne, an author and etiquette expert for and other web sites. “You’ll have the checks and balances, and no one will feel as though you are trying to bribe the teacher,” she says.

The reality is, if you don’t give a gift, your child won’t be penalized, teachers say. Every present is appreciated, but that doesn’t mean putting a monetary figure on it.

“Being a teacher and having school-age children, I am looking at both sides of Teacher Appreciation,” says Dr. Tawyna Bailey, a work-based learning coordinator in Douglasville, Ga. “Do not go overboard in spending. The thought that goes into a gift means more to me than the cost.”

Just like anyone else, notes Brandi Hayes, an 11th and 12th-grade teacher in Calhoun, Ga., “We love to feel valued and appreciated. That is one of the best gifts.”

Tagged In: Education Gifts Schools Teacher Appreciation Day Teacher Appreciation Week Teachers