More than an Apple

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It’s natural to want to find nice gifts for teachers. After all, they spend six-plus hours a day, five days a week with your child. But this year, instead shopping, why not encourage the kids to make or do something special? After all, teachers say heartfelt gifts are their favorites (honest!).

Pay it forward

"(Teachers) never expect to receive gifts. We really don’t," says Ann Debien, a kindergarten teacher of nearly 30 years currently at Tonda Elementary School in Canton. "When I was a young teacher and kids would bring me gifts, I was always so thankful and appreciative."

But it wasn’t always something she needed. Holiday gifts could add up to a lot of popcorn tins, mugs, and other trinkets. So Debien began to brainstorm ways her students could pool efforts to give a gift to serve others.

For the last few years, around the first week of December, Debien sends out a letter to her students’ parents, letting them know that in lieu of gifts, she would ask parents and students – if they’re interested – to donate to a cause.

In the past, she’s had her students collect food items to provide dinner for families that would otherwise go without a holiday meal; she’s signed up to give gifts to families in need through the Salvation Army

Last year, she suggested her students donate to Maybury Farm in Northville. Kids gave money to "adopt" animals there; through their collected funds, Debien was able to sign up to provide food and care for a bunny, a sheep and a goat.

"I let the students vote on which animals we should adopt," says Debien. Later in the school year, students took a field trip to the farm to visit "their" animals.

Get creative

While Debien appreciates her students’ desire to get her something special, she says the best holiday gift is something that the student has created. That’s right. No expensive gift basket, no pricey gift certificate; just a card made with crayon and paper.

"I don’t think any teacher can really express how much they love receiving those cards," says Debien. "Getting something students created on their own, that shows how much they’ve learned. I can’t stress enough how much teachers like seeing something they’ve drawn and written. It’s a compliment."

When students bring in a card, Debien tries to make a big deal out it, thanking the child and hanging it up near her desk for the whole class to see. The cards, which usually say something like, "I love you," "You’re my favorite teacher," or "You’re the best," stay up even after the holidays.

Joyce Bayer, a kindergarten teacher for over 20 years, agrees that teachers’ favorite gifts are those that come straight from students’ handiwork. As a kindergarten teacher at a charter school in Detroit, she says many of her students’ parents don’t have extra money to spend on gifts for their own kids, let alone offering presents to teachers.

She suggests that if kids insist on giving their teachers gifts, take them to the Dollar Tree or another discount store, and let them pick out something inexpensive. "One year one of my students gave me a scarf from the dollar store that the parent had put my name on," remembers Bayer.

Still, Bayer’s favorite gifts, like Debien’s, are the handmade sentiments. "I love getting the cards with glitter sprinkled all over and crazy spelling," she says. "It just shows you how much (the students) appreciate you. You know it’s coming straight from the heart."

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