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Article updated: 11/30/2012 1:10 PM

Teacher gifts from the heart score most points

By Tara García Mathewson

It's that time of year again. Thanksgiving is behind us, Christmas trees are lighting up family rooms, gift exchange arrangements are being made. And parents are trying to figure out what to do for their kids' teachers.

Theresa Gasick, a first-grade teacher at Adler Park School in Libertyville said buying teachers gifts is absolutely not obligatory. But as a mom, she knows the reality is that parents often feel like they should, especially if they have elementary-aged children.

So her advice is this: the more personal the better. Of course she has been grateful to receive store-bought gifts over the years, but the homemade items make a bigger impression.

"If it comes from the child and they've put their heart and soul into it, that's a wonderful thing," Gasick said, "because they're trying to give you the best that they have."

Jude Locke, a fourth-grade teacher at Arbor View Elementary School in Glen Ellyn, has had the same experience in her years of teaching. Locke said she hopes parents don't stress over the gift-giving too much, because she also names the best gifts as those made by those she has in class. Ornaments on her Christmas tree at home, for example, are saved artwork of former students.

Tamika Morales, a second-grade teacher at Channing Elementary School in Elgin, has every ornament a student has ever given her filling the trees she decorates at her home. She also likes personalized gifts -- her students know she is health conscious so a water bottle was a great choice and earrings from a student who knows she loves accessories seemed extra special.

Morales suggested the Dollar Store as a spot for gift-making material or gifts themselves. One year she got a cake platter from a student.

"I'm too cheap to buy myself a cake platter but they got me one from the Dollar Store and I love it," Morales said.

Teachers have noticed their students' families increasingly coordinating gift-giving and chipping in for one larger gift from the entire class.

Gasick and Locke both pointed to teacher supply store gift cards as welcome presents. Cards for Target, Staples or even Sam's Club and Costco give teachers a chance to buy classroom materials without using their own money.

Books as gifts for a classroom library are another option, though Gasick recommended hardcover rather than paperback because they last longer. By extension, gift cards to bookstores are equally appreciated.

Online options include visiting djinkers.com for clip art, stationary and school supplies or wordle.net to make a personalized word cloud using words to describe a favorite teacher.

For Gasick, advice always circles around to the personal tributes saying thank you, more than anything else.

"Seriously, the best gift that I can ever get from a parent or child is just a note that says they appreciate all the hard work I do for the child or for the school," Gasick said.

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