How Come Elementary Teachers Get All the Presents?

The bigger the kids, the less you receive. But I’m okay with that—most of the time.

Elementary Teacher Gifts
Large pile of gifts laid up against the wall

As the holiday season moves into full swing, I always find the teacher-gift conversation interesting. My own children are in elementary school, and my wife has been prepping gifts for their teachers. I’m on board, especially since I can relate to the teaching grind. I get it. A gift is a nice way to acknowledge educators for their commitment to students, a thank-you for their efforts.

As a high school teacher, though, my experience is a little different, at least compared to my elementary teacher friends.

I usually have somewhere between 130 and 150 students each semester. It takes a while to learn the names, and occasionally I end up with more Madisons than I ever thought possible, but I manage. I see a large number of students, but I’m only one of six teachers on their schedule. I’m just a small portion of their day—approximately an hour. In other words, I don’t expect to receive much, gift wise. And that’s totally fine. If anything, it makes it that much more special when I do, because it’s rare. 

On the flip side, my brother, an elementary school teacher, typically receives more gift cards than he could ever hope to use.

His typical class size is somewhere between 23 and 29. Those are his students for the year. He is their teacher for the year. What does this mean? Each year he gets quite a holiday haul, loading up his car with gifts and driving home, probably smiling from ear to ear. Not only does he have the next two weeks off, he also has complimentary breakfast, lunch, and dinner for the duration of break. Must be nice.

I never claimed to be in the teaching profession for the holiday gifts.

I loved (and still love) my subject area and wanted to make learning an enjoyable experience for my students. But every now and then, I think about my brother and his overabundance of Applebee’s, Starbucks, Subway, and Tim Hortons gift cards. We’ve been logging the same hours. We’ve been prepping our lessons. We’ve been making the same drive—he teaches in the building next to mine with only a parking lot separating us during the day. Yet, what a different experience we have the week before break. Am I jealous? Well, maybe a little.

As much as I like to joke about how I should’ve been an elementary teacher, I don’t think families should feel obligated to purchase gifts.

It’s a tangible expression of gratitude, and certainly a thoughtful gesture, but not everyone is in a financial position to do that. There shouldn’t be any added pressure to purchase gifts this time of year, nor feelings of shame for being unable to do so. 

For me, it comes down to a desire to feel appreciated. That’s all.


In a profession that often seems thankless and not worth the stress, a little acknowledgment goes a long way. Whether it’s from an administrator, parent, or student, it’s just nice to hear—at least once in a while. One of my former students routinely contacts me and even makes time for a visit when he’s in town from California. He reminds me of how my teaching influenced him and often assures me he’s still applying that knowledge. There’s no gift card that could ever express that kind of lasting gratitude for the countless hours of planning, grading, and instructing. It’s priceless. So if a teacher gift is your way of expressing thanks, wonderful. If it’s a kind email, hearty handshake, or even a hug, even better. 

But … I do like Starbucks and Biggby. Just saying.

We’d love to hear your experiences—what have been the best teacher gifts you have received? Do you get less as a high school teacher or more? Come and share in our WeAreTeachers HELPLINE group on Facebook.

Plus, the best presents for teachers.

How Come Elementary Teachers Get All the Presents?