The Best Gifts for Teachers

the best gifts for teachers

What Are The Best Teacher Gifts?

It’s that time of year, and gift buying is in full swing. What are the best gifts for teachers?  I have zero expectations of receiving gifts. It is always nice to receive a gift from a student, but it is by no means necessary. Trust me when I say that teachers are not in teaching for gifts. The most memorable and best gifts I’ve received have been so small but so meaningful.

I’m not a parent, but I can imagine in some communities gift-giving is a huge stressor. I have spent hours scouring Etsy in search of the perfect gift for my assistant teacher or teacher friends only to find nothing that fits. Here are the most memorable gifts I’ve received.

Two Hershey Kisses

One year, it might have been my first year teaching, a child came in with two Hershey kisses. He handed me the first one and said this is for taking care of my brain and helping me learn. He then gave me the second one and said this is for taking care of my heart and helping me grow. Well! My little teacher heart melted, and that gift has stuck with me all these years later. Teachers LOVE stuff like this. It was so simple but so meaningful. I teared up just writing about this story again. Sometimes the best gifts come in the smallest packages.

Tall Caramel Macchiato

Parent-Teacher conferences are an intense time for teachers. Not in a bad or good way, but it is exhausting to connect with every family on the same evening. I remember my dad once commented that it was odd teachers had to write down notes like they didn’t know the student. That isn’t why teachers write down notes. Can you imagine having 20 intense and detailed conversations one right after the next? It’s a lot, and I want to ensure that I explain all that I need to about each child. I want to have a powerful and meaningful conversation. Anyway, my toughest year of teaching so far started with a tall caramel macchiato. A mom walked in for her conference with two. She happened to be my first conference of the evening, and caramel macchiatos are my favorite. This was another kind, but simple thank you.

A Homemade Card

I love it when kids give me homemade stuff. One year I happened to have the daughter of a teacher at our school. For weeks she had been warning me that I was in for a real treat with my gift. Her daughter had been carefully planning it out and working on it for weeks. The morning finally came when I was to receive this magnificent gift. She came in to let me know that her daughter was a little emotional because some of the glitter didn’t stick the way she wanted it to. I was so excited to finally see what this little gem was working on for almost a month.

She walked into our classroom with a huge smile on her face and handed me a card. It was three large sheets of construction paper taped together to display a winter scene. There were cotton balls for clouds and so many stickers. The glitter looked beautiful. The class gathered around us as she explained in detail each part of the card and why she made it the way she did. It was a true labor of love. Any homemade card is a great gift!

A Portrait

Sitting on a shelf in my classroom right now is a portrait of me drawn by one of my previous gems. I received this magnificent drawing as an end of the year gift. He spent so much time sketching out my face and then determining what best represented me. There are hundreds of tiny hearts all around the border of the picture. His mom did say she was recruited when he couldn’t draw any more hearts but needed more! There are little books drawn on my face, and there is a lot of hot pink because that is my favorite color. Each part of me as a teacher is represented in his drawing. It’s something that students always marvel at in the classroom and get excited when they know why a detail was included in the portrait.

Kraft Macaroni and Cheese

This is my most recent addition to the list. As an expat, macaroni and cheese is hard to come by. A family went back to the US for a short trip. I jokingly said that they needed to enjoy their trips to Target and eat some delicious macaroni and cheese for me. I was so surprised when they came back, and I received a small rectangular present. When I opened it up to find a box of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, I died. I was so excited, the American students and I explained macaroni and cheese to students who had never had it. We even wanted to plan a macaroni and cheese party, but it never happened. I went home and made it for dinner that evening and could not have been a happier teacher!

Don’t add more stress to your life, worrying about the best teacher gift. The most meaningful gifts are from the heart and based on the positive relationship between you, your child, and the teacher. One of my teacher friend’s sons insisted on giving his teacher chapstick because she wears some everyday! These gifts might seem small or silly but they are the greatest gifts a teacher can receive.

 

What was one of your best gifts?

Teachers, what is the best gift you’ve ever received? 

Switching Schools? 7 Tips to Help You Settle In

Switching Schools? 7 Tips to Help You Settle In

7 Tips To Help You Settle Into A New School

I’ve switched schools four times over the course of my teaching career. I think that each switch provided me exactly what I needed next in my career. I’ve also seen many other teachers enter into a new school. Some have transitioned seamlessly while others have quite a hard time. I think part of that comes down to personality but some of it comes down to actions and mindsets. Here are 7 tips to help you settle in when you switch schools. 

Tip 1: Keep an Open Mind and AN Open heart

Remember when you interviewed something about this school stuck with you and that is why you chose to move there. Be open minded. This school will not be the same as the one you just left. They might have different rules, routines or procedures. They might have traditions or things they’ve always done that don’t make any sense to you. Enter with an open mind and an open heart. Part of changing schools is learning from new ways of thinking and new ways of being. Listen in as people talk about the school. Listen to understand not to criticize or put down. Listen to truly understand. 

Tip 2: Ask Questions

There will no doubt be a lot of information thrown your way. Ask a lot of questions. Don’t be afraid to ask enough questions. And, once again, listen to understand. The responses you get might not be the ones you were thinking of. If you don’t ask questions then you’ll never know. I remember when I switched schools a teacher came in and told me I wasn’t asking enough questions and he was worried about me. Truth was, I was asking questions but just not to him… BUT I do sometimes feel the same sense of concern when new teachers don’t ask a lot of questions. Oh, and, don’t make assumptions. It probably won’t end well. 

Tip 3: Find A Mentor

Like I said in tip 2, I was asking questions. I found a teammate who I felt I could trust and who I felt understood me as a teacher. I popped in and out of her room all year long asking many, many questions. Find someone who you can trust. Someone who will take time to explain how things work or what goes where. My first year teaching I was assigned a mentor and it didn’t go very well. She didn’t want to be anyone’s mentor and I was left to seek out a mentor on my own. I think natural mentorships are the best. Don’t force anyone to be your mentor just see where things go and find one naturally. 

tip 4: Build Relationships

Build relationships with everyone at your new school. Just like you build relationships with your children build them with the new staff around you. Know that some teachers are weary of newcomers and might take a while before they open up to you. Some people will jump right in. Be cautious of using gossip as the foundation of your teacher friendships. Relationships built on gossip almost always turn negative and end up becoming toxic.

Tip 5: Practice Positivity

Be positive! Like I said, gossip is one of the worst ways to build relationships. Something I dread as a teacher is the person who is a drain. If you don’t practice positivity you might become a drain yourself. You don’t want to suck all the energy out of every room that you enter so be cautious when you criticize and try to practice positivity in regards to your new job.

Tip 6: Go With THe Flow

Be flexible. So you thought that you needed to decorate your whole classroom only to find out that all classrooms are left blank and are designed with the students. Or you didn’t realize that you had to take your kids to snack at 10:00. You are going to make mistakes. You need to give yourself a learning curve and allow for those mistakes to happen. Go with it. So maybe you have an assembly the first day of school that lasts for 60 minutes instead of 30. Go with it. There isn’t much a negative attitude or reluctance to change will do other than stress out both you and the kids. Go with the flow! 

Tip 7: Share Your Ideas

You were hired for a reason. You said something that people liked and people wanted to learn from you. Share your ideas openly. Remember that maybe not all of your ideas will end up working out at your new school but don’t be afraid to respectfully share new ideas! 

Do you have a tip for a teacher who is changing schools this year? Leave it down below in the comments! 

Friday Five: Back in the USA

Friday Five: Back in the USA

This is my first summer back in the United States since before I moved to Poland. I am excited but I am going to miss my laidback European summers. I won’t be jetting off to Spain for time on the beach and I won’t be walking down the street for ice cream everyday… although maybe that is a good thing! I am excited to be back for the summer though. I am excited to spend time with my family and visit all of my friends. It’s a summer full of transitions and fun… and one small rant about airports! 

One

Welcome Back- O'Hare Chaos

They need some teachers' help

I have landed in many airports over the years and I have gone through passport control in so many places and O’Hare is terrible. To be fair, O’Hare is the only American airport I’ve landed in after an international flight- maybe all other airports are better. I’m about to go on a small (ok…🙄medium) and very justified rant about this now.

The directions aren’t clear going through. The employees are yelling these directions and if you aren’t in the right place at the right time, you miss out. Non-native English speakers are confused and instead of answering any questions, the employees just continue to yell directions. There are like 2 signs with directions and only in English and then you are expected to know what to do. It is like a lesson in the classroom gone horribly wrong.

I am a native English speaker, I am an American, I have been through passport control at O’Hare several times and it still stresses me out to the max every single time.

I feel so terrible for the people who don’t know what to do, try to ask for help, and just have the same directions they didn’t understand the first time screamed at them.

Then the little electronic check-in or whatever is completely unorganized. There is no one directing traffic and machines that are open when you leave the line and walk over aren’t still open when you arrive. Then those machines are very tricky for older people to use and understand which creates more chaos. AND why is there no expedited line for Americans? I am always envious of EU passport holders going through so quickly in Poland or UK passport holders zipping right through in England and I never get to zip through a passport line.

What O’Hare needs is a few teachers who have handled indoor recess duty for days…maybe weeks in a row. Teachers who have had to repeat the same directions over and over in the same way and rewording the directions different ways. Teachers who understand how valuable a meaningful anchor chart can be on the wall. Who know the value of pre-teaching and laying out clear expectations for what is going to happen. They need some teachers who understand that you don’t need to yell louder at non-native English speakers you need to explain things clearly, simply, multiple ways, and allow for wait time. A few teachers in there and the whole mess could be care  straightened out. 

You know what they need, you have the safety video at the start of your flight you should watch a customs video at the end of your flight while the plane is heading to the gate! See, this one teacher figured out a way to calm the chaos. Let me just run this idea by someone in charge of airport security…

After passport control there was a hilarious luggage situation. Several people, myself included, didn’t see their luggage come out. I had 1 out of 4 suitcases! 😲😧Then the baggage employee started… wait, guess what he started to do! YELL! At everyone! Then he called down and announced these exact words…. that I wrote down because I found them so hilarious! “Everyone! Stop talking to me! I AM TRYING TO TALK TO YOU!!!! They have magically found a luggage thingy that wasn’t unloaded. Your bags will be here soon! I don’t know. It is magical! MAGIC!” That last magic was screamed so aggressively I jumped a little! 😂

Once I got outside and saw my mom and brother I was relieved. So relieved I almost broke down in tears. One I had made it back into the US. Two I finally had someone to help me with all of my luggage… and there was a lot of it. 

Two

Adjusting to America

I will not lie and say I have completely adjusted back to being in the US. Reverse culture shock is real! I’ve heard from many expats that re-entry can be just as difficult (or sometimes more so) than leaving. The biggest shock I’ve had to readjust to is how cold my parents keep our house! I haven’t been in air-conditioning in years. My parents don’t actually even have air-conditioning but they have so many fans. The fans are always on and I am always in a sweatshirt under a blanket! I can assure you in a few weeks I will not be complaining about the chill. It’s all about readjusting.

You know what else I have to adjust to? Being so close to a Target. I cannot even tell you how much I miss Target when I am abroad. The times I miss it most are when I need a specific item for my classroom and I know the exact location of it in Target and have I have no idea where to even begin the search for it in Poland. That is the worst! Although I have to admit I am now able to find lots of things in Poland. I have only been to Target once since being home and I have a new personal mantra for when I think about going to Target. “You are poor. You should not go.” It’s working so far but a girl can only hold off for so long! 

A third adjustment is living with my parents again! I’m almost 30 and moving back home after being so independent is an adjustment to say the very least. People (aka my mom and dad) want to know what I am doing at all times. Where I am going? How much money I am spending on things? Why does it take you so long to get ready? 😂The questions just don’t stop! I absolutely love my parents and I am so glad to spend time with them but it’s weird after being so independent.

The good thing about living with your parents is that my mom makes me coffee every morning and brings it to me. AND… you’re not going to believe this! My dad offered to give me his credit card to go to Target… what a brave man! Then immediately told me, just as he did when I was fifteen, that he expects receipts and I am only authorized to buy an HDMI cable. 😂😂Don’t worry, I only purchased the authorized item! 

Three

Sibling Bonding

My youngest brother is the only one currently at my parent’s house. He and I have had a lot of time to hang out. So far we have gone on an adventure to Target (that was no fun because we didn’t even get to aimlessly wander the entire store to buy things we didn’t need) and the grocery store. We’ve watched a lot of Netflix together and have joked around a ton! I think we’re getting on our parents nerves a bit because we like to cause a bit of trouble but it is so great. I do miss the time hanging out with my siblings when I’m not in the US. We purchased an absurd amount of freeze pops (another thing to adjust to- things come in such large quantities) that we will enjoy together. We are currently in intense negotiations about chores at the moment because neither of us want to mow the lawn. But, just like when we were children, it it isn’t mowed when my parents get home from work we’ll be in trouble. 😂We are also planning on purchasing hammocks and putting them up in our parent’s backyard to chill outside! Should be a good summer for the two of us! 

 

FOur

The Cutest Old Lady

I CANNOT BELIEVE I ALMOST FORGOT ABOUT THIS! This maybe should have been number one but here we are at four. 

I sat next to the cutest, old, Polish lady on my flight! She gives tours in Warsaw and part of one of her tour groups was coincidentally behind us on the plane. She must be a very good tour guide because she promptly put herself in charge of us and guided us through the flight. She pulled out pens when they handed out the border cards which I guess you don’t even have to fill out anymore because it is all digital. 

This is one thing they scream at you as you’re waiting in line.PUT THOSE BLUE CARDS AWAY! I DON’T EVEN WANT TO SEE THEM! SIR, I SAID PUT IT AWAY WE DON’T WANT TO SEE THEM. YOU DON’T NEED THOSE! Such high-stress! 

The cards were only in Polish so she helped the ladies behind me fill it out and asked for a card for me. They didn’t give me one because they thought her and I were flying together. Then they still didn’t give me one because I was American and they said I wouldn’t need it. That, thankfully, turned out to be true. 

During the flight she watched the flight screen for the whole trip. I cannot imagine watching that screen for nine hours but she did it. I only checked it when the little boy on the plane would yell out, “only 7 more hours.” Then I would check in on our progress and get antsy about sitting still for so long! She took a little nap and rested her head on my shoulder and I didn’t even mind one bit. 

When I asked if I could get out of our row she told me I had excellent timing. The man on the aisle was also up so I only disturbed her and she doesn’t mind at all. Then she complimented me because I ended up returning from the bathroom before the man on the aisle and she was so impressed with my timing. I explained that I was a teacher and quick bathroom breaks were my thing… she didn’t really understand that but it’s ok! Then every time the man got up she asked if I needed to use the toilet or if I needed a walk around the plane. She was so kind! 

When we landed I explained the electronic passport thing… what is that thing called? to the ladies. Then we stood next to each other in line and I explained how it worked again. They successfully made it through passport control and after picking up her bag she told me to have a wonderful time in the US and gave me a hug. She was heading to North Dakota. I hope she’s having a good time here in the US! 

 

Five

Next Up: Cousins Camping

The Rice family loves nature and the outdoors. My grandma loved birdwatching and the whole family enjoys being outdoors. Cousins camping started a few years ago. Now, I used to go camping a lot but I have not been camping in probably 5-ish years. My vacations have been a bit more glam than camping while in Europe. My sister made it very clear that we are NOT glamping but real camping. 🙄I hope I survive! While you’re reading this I am heading to go camping with all of my cousins. I’ve missed out on a few cousin’s camping weekends while in Poland and I am really excited to get to go to this one. I haven’t seen my cousins in so long and I miss them tons! I haven’t seen them since before I left the US for Poland 3 years ago. I know this weekend is going to be filled with fun shenanigans. I did pick up some Polish vodka in the airport just for this occasion. I have two cousins who are also turning 30 in July so I brought them each back a small gift (read: vodka and a shot glass) to celebrate! Watch out northern Wisconsin, the Rice’s are going to have some fun this weekend! 

How’s your summer vacation going?

What fun things do you have planned?

How do you feel about the airport upon re-entry to the US? 

Is it that stressful everywhere? Is there somewhere worse than O’Hare? 

 

Weekly Wisdom

All reading counts as reading. Graphic novels, audiobooks, poetry, wordless picture books, eBooks-all reading. No one kind of reading is better than the other.

Sharing a Classroom

Sharing a Classroom

I was recently talking to a teacher friend of mine and she was going on and on about another teacher who teaches a special in her classroom. She was beyond frustrated by what happens during that class and was hitting a breaking point. When another teacher comes into your classroom space to teach their class it can become frustrating. In the past I’ve had health, guidance, technology, German, drama, and Polish in my classroom. Iʼm sure any teacher who goes from classroom to classroom also has a hard time managing many different sets of expectations and rules.

Here's How I Navigate The Situation

Set clear expectations with teachers.

In the beginning of the year I clearly explain my expectations to the other teachers. Currently I have health once a week and Polish four days a week in my classroom. I explained to these two teachers that I donʼt mind sharing our supplies (markers, scissors, glue, etc.) as long as they are put back and taken care of. Other teachers in our school do not allow specials teachers to use supplies. I havenʼt had a problem with it so I allow it. I also listen to what their expectations are of me. I explain that I am willing to leave the classroom if they would prefer I was not there. 

Items to Consider

  •  Classroom supplies– Are you going to share? How are the supplies organized? What can and cannot be used by students? What are the clean-up expectations
  • Stay in the classroom or leave– Some teachers don’t mind if you stay. Others would prefer you leave. I try to cause minimal distractions if I stay in the room and sometimes I just need to get out myself and find a quiet space to work. 
  • Space– What space will be shared and what will not be? I have a cabinet in my classroom for Polish notebooks and workbooks but I can’t give up any wall space for Health. (We have very oddly shaped classrooms with limited wall space and lots of windows. It looks great but there’s only space for maybe 3 anchor charts on the wall.) 
  • Technology– I always keep my remote and pen for our interactive TV in the same place and I ask the teachers who use our space to put it back in the same spot. We also don’t have an HDMI cable in my classroom so teachers using my room need to learn how to cast to the TV using ChromeCast. 
  • Cleaning Up– I expect my classroom to look the same way that I left it. The chairs need to be pushed in. There shouldn’t be papers or markers all over the floor.  
  • Behavior Problems– This is a tricky one. Sometimes the teachers who use my classroom expect me to step in as the homeroom teacher and deal with behavior problems. This gets dicey and I don’t like it. I think it takes the authority away from the other teacher and I don’t like responding to behavior problems where I wasn’t the teacher. I explain this to the teachers using my space but at my current school it is sometimes an expectation to step in. 

Set clear expectations with students.

I sit my class down at the beginning of the year and explain the somewhat confusing situation of having two teachers (and sometimes three because of our assistant teacher) in the classroom at once. I explain that I am in the classroom but I am not the teacher. They need to treat the special teacher with respect and they need to follow our classroom rules. I teach them to pretend that I am invisible during another teacher’s class. They shouldn’t come over and ask me if they can go to the bathroom or go fill up their water bottle. Those questions need to be asked to the teacher. If there is an emergency I am always there but I have work I need to get done during that time.

Now, we all can set up clear expectations and things donʼt go according to plan. One year I thought I had clear expectations until I walked back into my classroom to grab something and the kids were going through all of the cabinets in a game of hide and seek! I cannot tell you the horror I felt as I grabbed my notebook and headed back to the meeting I was in. You never know…

When Things Don't GO According To Plan

Assume Positive Intentions- Talk it Out

If you feel that the other teacher isnʼt following your agreed upon expectations the very best thing to do is to talk to them about it. The teacher playing hide and seek figured it out all on his own after seeing my face. He was also a first year teacher and didn’t realize kids going through the cabinets wasn’t ok in our classroom. It was something I didn’t even consider explaining. Make sure to assume best intentions before speaking to them. Iʼm sure people might see snippets of my class and also get annoyed. It happens to all of us.

MYOB- Mind Your Own Business

This has been my most challenging piece this year. I see so many behaviors that I want to correct right away even though it is not my class. Sometimes I hear kids trying to pull things over on another teacher that they wouldn’t try with me or other teachers. It bothers me so much and I want to step in. The problem is that it isnʼt my class and it isnʼt my place to step in. Sometimes I just have to leave my classroom so I don’t overstep. Sometimes teachers have asked me to step in. 

Get Away

Sometimes when the stress and chaos becomes too much I get up and I leave my classroom. I find somewhere else to work. Sometimes I go to the library, the elementary commons, the chairs by the front office. I find a place I can work and I work there. Once last year I just worked on the window sill in the hallway outside of my classroom. If you canʼt handle being in the room, donʼt be in the room. I know this can get tricky because there are some things that we can only get done inside our classrooms but if it is causing you too much stress- leave, get out.

Additional Advice?

Have you ever had to share your classroom space with other teachers or have you floated from classroom to classroom yourself? What other tips and advice would you give? I’d love to hear what you have to say in the comments below!