Monday, December 5, 2011

Presents for teachers

It's the time of year again when most people with children are thinking about gifts to give significant adults in their children's lives - school teachers, kindergarten teachers, sports coaches, club leaders, music teachers, carers at creche, playgroup leaders, babysitters ... (The list can have infinite variations!)

There are many schools of thought about the gifts-for-teachers thing. While the majority of people of my acquaintance (both teachers and parents) seem to appreciate the notion of food gifts, some people are implacably opposed to giving or receiving food. Home-made vs store-bought is another potential minefield - home-made is personal and shows thought and effort, OR home-made is cheap and tacky and results in unreliable products. Alcohol and gift cards as presents are also contentious. How much is appropriate to spend on teacher gifts is another area of dispute, and everyone has their own ideas about it. I have been a little surprised, in the last 6 years of doing teacher gifts, exactly how deeply people hold their views on the subject and how much they believe them to be universal truth, rather than, well, their opinion, relevant to their situation.

In our case, this year we'll give gifts to:
- 7 gymnastics coaches (2 apiece for the three girls, and the director)
- 3 swimming teachers
- 2 carers at C's creche
- 4 teachers at the big kids' school (their classroom teacher, the maths coach who has done much extension work with them both this year, and the school VP, who has been super wonderful to us)
- The administration staff at school
- A and G's guitar teacher
- 7 families at playgroup
- My cake-baking friend K

(I'm tempted to add "and a partridge in a pear tree" :-)

We've varied what we give over the years, but each offering has included home-baked food. We've done chocolate truffles in the past, white Christmas, and pink fudge. One year we did meringue snowballs. Every year we make gingerbread, and last year and this, we have made shortbread. Everything I prepare in my kitchen is gluten free, so that certainly adds to the ingredient cost somewhat, but it's worth it so I can sample as we go :-)

I do check in with all the recipients before I cook whether there are any dietary or taste barriers, and I modify the gifts accordingly. Each year I do one batch of gingerbread that is dairy-free, for example, to cater to lactose intolerant people. And some people always state a preference for not eating chocolate (strange as I find this :-) so they get extra cookies and no truffles in their packs.

So this year we're sticking to gingerbread and shortbread, packaged in white noodle boxes and wrapped in ribbon, for the people on our list. The kids' classroom teachers and C's creche carers will also get a sachet of A's magical chocolate truffles and a charity gift card for buying school supplies via TEAR Australia. They will also get a bottle of wine (I've checked they're all wine drinkers - they are!)

I reckon if I worked it out fully (I haven't) that the cookie box gifts would probably cost about $5 each in terms of materials, and take maybe 20 minutes apiece prep time. The kids can all be involved in the preparation of the food and the fact that the cookies are always a bit wonky and decorated idiosyncratically is, I hope, part of the charm.

Other good ideas for teacher gifts that I have seen, but not used, are things like tree ornaments, notebook & stationery sets, tea & coffee supplies and equipment, movie cards, books and so forth. My basic barriers to choosing these kinds of gifts are a) financial and b) skill (I am a baker; I am *not* a crafter :-) We did make lavender scent bags last year that were cute, but this year we're sticking to food.

For anyone interested - and because I promised on Twitter! - here is my recipe for gluten free shortbread.

Gluten free shortbread

2 1/2 cups plain gf flour mix (I use Orgran All-Purpose)
1/2 cup caster sugar
1/2 cup rice flour
250g butter, chilled & cut into small cubes

Sift the dry ingredients together. Add the cubed butter and, using your fingertips, rub it through the flour until it hangs together in heavy clumps. (The kids love this part!)

Knead and roll the dough into a rectangle, wrap in cling wrap and chill for 1-2 hrs.

Preheat oven to 160C. Roll out the dough a little more and cut desired shapes. (This stage can be frustrating as the dough is stiff, but don't let it warm too much or the butter gets melty and then the cookies spread).

Cook until shortbread is solid but preferably not changing colour (in my oven it takes about 10 minutes).

When the cookies are cooled, sprinkle with extra caster sugar. All done!

I'd be interested to know other people's take on the gifts-for-teachers thing. Do you do it? Do you have a set schtick that you use, or do you mix it up year to year? Enquiring minds want to know!


  1. Thank you for the recipe. We have several ceoliac family members so I'm always looking for tried and tested recipes so I can cook for them :)

    Last year we gave the girls teachers & therapists Keep Cups. A gift they could re-use throughout the year. I did this after several of them expressing interest in where I got my Keep Cup from as they'd like one of their own.

    This year is a bit trickier. I'm going with gift cards for a couple, food for others and rubber duckies for everyone :D

  2. I think it's lovely and thoughtful that you do the baked gifts for so many of the teachers and coaches etc. I used to find it charming to receive obviously "home-baked" (by the children) gifts.

    And I used to *love-love-love* getting wine when I was teaching full-time! It was something we always used, always appreciated and always enjoyed :-)

    As always though, the very best gifts of all were the cards from parents, with a short but meaningful note of thanks about something specific to their child. DH & I still have every one of those cards or letters, 10 years on!

  3. Thank you also from me for the gluten free shortbread recipe. I look forward to trying it.

    I always give to the various teachers that are involved. Depends on the teachers as to what we give. It is always something small handmade, a bought gift tailored to them and then a giftcard for his main teacher, so they can treat themselves. One thing I have learnt is that teachers always love stationery so that's something I always include :)