For teachers, it's Christmas in May/June

Apr 23, 2008 at 3:00 a.m. ET

Every year it sneaks up on me, and every year I am flummoxed. What to give the teachers as an end of-year thank you? I am determined not to let it happen this year.

We are rapidly approaching the end of the school year. Just a month ago, I thought it would never be here, and yet, now that it is a light at the end of the tunnel, it's an awfully close light. Between spring sports and the general enjoyment of the longer days, I've been known to forget about the teacher gifts until the very last moment, in spite of my best intentions.When I tally up the number of teachers and educationally focused adults in my children's lives, I panic a little. Let's see. One, two, five, nine, 13, 14 … I believe there are 15 people associated with the schools that I need to acknowledge by the end of the year. No, wait, 17.Goodness.

All teachers are not equal

There are different levels in here. There are my Sunshine's team of teachers who provide more care and more intense one-on-one attention than, say, Alf's team teachers whom I barely know. There's the staff of Woody's and Alf's afterschool programs to consider, and Woody's bus driver. I've never met Alfs' bus driver (he'd be mortified if I actually walked to the bus with him in my robe at that awful hour), so I don't quite know what to do about that. Woody's teacher is getting married this summer, so that might require an extra touch of acknowledgement. And, for both Woody and Alfs, they are leaving their respective afterschool programs after several years with the same staff.I remember reading a newspaper article a while back about teacher gifts. It said teachers have enough mugs that read "World's Greatest Teacher," thankyouverymuch. It also said handmade and handwritten items were the most welcome. I've tried to take that to heart. There are no mugs on my shopping lists for the next several weeks.

So what to do?

After much consideration, and several years of rushed not always just right gift giving, I think I have a strategy. I also have a strict budget.Woody's bus driver will get a gift card for the local Dunkin' Donuts. Probably $20. She's been his bus driver for three years (won't be next year when he moves to a different school) and has been wonderful about helping her youngest charges learn the rules of bus riding in a safe, comfortable way. Everybody loves Mrs. C, and she has done an excellent job of keeping my sweet boy safe (and she'll be Sunshine's bus driver in the fall of 2009). After all these years, we know something about here: She likes her morning coffee. Alfs' and Woody's afterschool program staff will get a plant in a small Woody or Alf's hand-painted pot and nice thank-you notes from both me and Alfs or Woody. Sunshine's teachers probably will get a Sunshine-painted gourd birdhouse and a note from me. I found these ready-to-paint gourd to order. We have plenty of art supplies on hand to accomplish this and the pots.The homeroom parents in Woody's room likely will organize a group gift to get something off of the teacher's wedding gift registry, and we will contribute to that. But I will also have Woody write a note.Alfs' teachers will get gift cards from Borders in small amounts ($10), and notes written by Alfs.I'll get a couple of gift cards in small amounts from Border's just in case there's someone else I've forgotten.I'm glad I am planning this sooner rather than rushing later. Special people in my kids' lives deserve special — but not overboard — consideration. This plan feels just right. Enough to say thanks, enough so that the teachers/staff get the sense of a treat, and not so much that it breaks the bank.