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Put some thought into teacher thank-yous

By Sharon Omahen
University of Georgia

In the past 24 years, Earny Miller has accumulated more than 50 coffee mugs, which are proudly displayed at her parents’ home. They were all gifts from her students.

“I appreciated each and every one, but you can only use one coffee cup at a time,” said Miller, a reading specialist at Pleasant Grove Elementary School in Dalton, Ga.

Miller’s late father stored the mugs in a china cabinet.

“He was so proud of her so she gave the extra ones to him. He kept them on display,” said Miller’s mother Betty Dowdy, who now maintains the collection.

A coffee mug is a nice way to thank a teacher for a job well done at the end of the year. But Miller’s collection shows that there may be more memorable and unique gifts students can give, too, said Judy Ashley, a University of Georgia Cooperative Extension school relations specialist.

“Instead of giving the traditional coffee mug, why not give a gift certificate to a coffee shop,” Ashley said.

According to the National Parent Teacher Association, gift certificates to area restaurants, salons or events are also unique, thoughtful gift choices, she said.

If time allows, survey your child’s teachers to find out their favorite books, colors, flowers and restaurants. Then use this knowledge to select a good gift, she said.

“You can then work with other parents to give the teacher his or her favorite book signed by each of the students in this year’s class,” Ashley said. “Or, give each teacher a bouquet of their favorite flower.”

Miller agrees that personal gifts are best. One of her all-time-favorite gifts is a ceramic pot created by a room parent.

“She made the pot and added all the students’ names and their thumb prints,” she said.

Christmas decorations are also among Miller’s favorites.

“I use them to decorate the room and I remember each of the kids when I unpack and display them,” she said. “I have a holiday wall hanging from Joseph Farmer and he’s now 22, a UGA student and the Hairy Dawg mascot.”

Teachers often use their personal funds to purchase items for the classroom. To help lessen the burden on the teacher’s budget, give a hodgepodge of classroom materials like tissue boxes, hand sanitizer, paper, chalk and stickers.

“If you’re not sure what to include, give a gift certificate to an area teachers’ supply store,” she said.

Gifts don’t have to be expensive. Many can be created by the student.

“Help your child write a personal thank-you note individualized for each teacher,” Ashley said. “Or interview your child about the teacher and use the answers in your thank-you note.”

Ask the child what he or she liked best about the teacher or what was the most important thing learned. Ask, too, what flower or cartoon character the teacher is like and why. The child’s response could make for a funny additional anecdote.

Incorporate the child’s answers into a truly one-of-a-kind thank-you note. Include a separate note expressing your gratitude to the teacher.

Special education teacher Jean Marie Reese’s most prized gift is physically and literally priceless.

“One of my students carved a heart and the words ‘I love you’ into a piece of wood,” said Reese, a Banks County teacher. “More than half of our students are on the free or reduced lunch program. Their families don’t have extra money. This personal gift meant so much to me. I have displayed it in my curio cabinet for more than 10 years.”

(Sharon Omahen is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

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