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YOUNG BUCKS-Holiday gifts teachers really want

Lauren Young
Wednesday, 11 Dec 2013 | 12:29 PM ET

NEW YORK, Dec 11 (Reuters) - As the holidays approach, many parents are grappling with the ultimate gift conundrum - it better to give cash, gift cards or more personal gifts to teachers?

"I don't like the idea of gift cards that much," says Lucy P. Marcus, the parent of a school-aged child in England and chief executive officer of Marcus Venture Consulting, which specializes in corporate governance issues. "I can see the utility, but it still feels very impersonal - like giving money."

As a kid, I distinctly remember my mother elaborately wrapping presents for my teachers - usually wool crewneck sweaters from my grandfather's knitting company.

Did my teachers appreciate - or even wear - those sweaters? I'll never know.

Today I'm the parent of a fourth-grader. At my son's school, we collect money - whatever families want to contribute - and give teachers American Express gift cards. I know some teachers really appreciate the flexibility of a gift card - one used hers to buy pricey plane tickets to visit her family in Ireland during a school break.

But perhaps something more unique or thoughtful would resonate for other members of our school's teaching staff.

I asked friends who are teachers - as well as educators recognized for exemplary service - to share their favorite holiday gifts.

Deborah Cornelison, a physical science teacher at Byng Junior High in Ada, Oklahoma, and 2013 National Teacher Hall of Fame inductee:

"The words of my ninth-grade science students that tell me I make a difference in their lives are my most meaningful holiday gifts.

"One such gift I have kept for years inserted in a journal I reference often at home. Written on a beautiful card are these words from a talented, yet reserved, high school freshman: "Mrs. Cornelison, You are the most intelligent woman and teacher I know. I strive each day to have as great of knowledge as you. Merry Christmas."

Geoffrey Perry, fifth-grade teacher and history department chair at Dalton School in New York City:

"Some of my favorite gifts are a really expensive and well made umbrella and a baking book from the chef of Odeon (a restaurant in New York). I use all the bread recipes still. A tea pot with a map of the world. A homemade beeswax candle that still gets put on our tree. A money clip with a Flannery O'Connor quotation.

"I get pretty good swag. I am blessed. But the best, and it comes every year to all the teachers ... homemade chocolate-covered pretzels from the mom of two students I taught."

Jessica Pack, who teaches language arts, social studies and technology at James Workman Middle School in Riverside County (California) and 2014 California Teacher of the Year honoree:

"Half of my Christmas tree at home is decorated with handmade ornaments my students have given me over the years. One of my favorite gifts was a beaded necklace that my student and her grandmother made for me in Mexico. I was very touched.

"Another really fantastic gift that I received was from a family who brought in a big basket of school supplies to replenish our classroom cupboard. Most teachers pay out of pocket for many of the supplies in our classrooms, so I thought that was very considerate.

"Lots of my students over the years have enclosed Starbucks cards in a hand-written letter, because they know I love Tazo iced tea.

"I don't think I've ever received a 'worst gift' from a student. I will, however, say that I have more coffee mugs than I know what to do with."

Jeff Charbonneau, a chemistry, physics and engineering teacher at Zillah High School in Zillah, Washington, and 2013 National Teacher of the Year from the Council of Chief State School Officers:

"My wife and I went out to dinner with our two children, then ages 4 and 2, to a fairly nice seafood restaurant chain about a week before Christmas. The night was, well, what should have been expected by taking a two-year-old to a nice dinner.

"When it came time for the bill the waitress said, 'Are you a teacher?' I said yes. I will never, ever, forget the words that came next:

" 'A gentleman and his wife already paid for your meal. They said that you taught their son a few years ago and that he is doing great now. They wanted to thank your wife for letting you sacrifice so much of your time for their son.'

"My wife and I were almost in tears - OK, so I was in tears. I looked frantically around the restaurant, but the couple had already left.

"I will never know who paid for our dinner that night. But it wasn't about the bill. I can't remember what I ate. I don't know how much it cost. But I will never forget the words of gratitude."

The YOUNG BUCKS column appears monthly and at additional times as warranted. Lauren Young tweets at www.twitter.com/laurenyoung. Read more of her work at blogs.reuters.com/lauren-young