Private schools have different policies about teacher gifts. In some schools, the parents' association collects money and buys each teacher a gift, while in other schools, parents can give what they wish to teachers or to other staff, often according to guidelines. While there are urban legends (some of them true) about parents lavishing teachers and, more commonly, college guidance officers with expensive gifts, it is generally more suitable for parents to buy teachers gifts, either at the winter holidays or at the end of the year, that help the teachers in the classroom. Here are some ideas:
Materials for the Classroom
While many private schools are fortunate enough to have well-stocked libraries, teachers often compile lists of the books, DVDs, programs, or technology that they need in their classrooms. It may be a good idea to start with your school's librarian when looking to buy a teacher a gift, as the librarian may keep a list of what the teacher needs, including not only titles that relate to the teacher's curriculum but also magazine subscriptions or DVDs that can support their teaching; you can also give gifts to the library to thank the deserving librarians. A technology teacher can let you know if your child's teacher or the tech department have specific requests for their classrooms.
You can never go wrong with an extra hard-copy edition of a book that the teacher uses in the classroom. If you are looking for titles, you can start with the ten most commonly read books in private high schools, which often appear on private school reading lists. You may also want to check out novels about private school, a list that includes favorites such as A Separate Peace by John Knowles, The World of Henry Orient by Nora Johnson, and Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld, among others. These novels explore the world of private schools of yesterday and today. If you are in doubt about which books teachers would like, you can get them a gift certificate at a local bookstore.
Movies About Private Schools
There are a number of movies about private schools that make good teacher gifts, including The Dead Poet's Society (1989), The Emperor's Club (2002), and the classic Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1939). Another great film about an English prep school is The History Boys (2006), based on a play by Alan Bennett. It's about a group of bright, outspoken boys at a provincial British high school who are coached to pass the written exams to get into Cambridge and Oxford by a set of eccentric faculty members. Though the movie takes place in Britain, the students and classroom discussions are similar to those at American private schools.
Dessert and A Note
Keep in mind that a cookie and a note go a long way. The best gifts I ever received as a teacher were thoughtful notes written by my students and their parents. I keep every single one of them, as do many of the teachers and faculty I know. One administrator I met even tacked every single thank-you note he had ever received to his bulletin board. He would look at these thoughtful notes on bad days. These notes are wonderful pick-me-ups and reminders to teachers why they do the hard work that they do all year. You can accompany the note with a coffee mug customized to the teacher's interests (for example, featuring a writer or a mathematician), or you can use this baking website to make some cookies to go along with the note; nothing will be sweeter.