Teacher Rocky Karbel fingers the golden "R" hanging from a chain around her neck. She flicks her wrist, jangling the tiny hearts on her bracelet, and picks up the embroidered denim jacket, showing off a few of the many gifts she has received over the years from students.
Expensive presents are swell, said Karbel, but the gifts that really touch her are the cards, pictures and personal notes of appreciation from her charges--and their parents.
"It sounds corny," said Karbel, who teaches first grade at Riverside Drive Elementary School in Sherman Oaks, "but the gifts that mean the most are the ones with pictures of the kids and a nice note."
Teachers often top the holiday gift list of appreciative parents and students, and it doesn't take much to make them happy.
"Teaching is such a giving and all-consuming profession that it is nice to know you are appreciated," said Arlene Schneider, a second-grade teacher at Dearborn Street Elementary School in Northridge. "A gift isn't necessary, but words of . . . thanks mean so much."
In these days of belt-tightening budget cuts, many San Fernando Valley teachers buy a lot of their own school supplies--sometimes even paying for field trips--so anything that can be used in the classroom is always appreciated.
Books, arts-and-crafts supplies, stickers, rubber stamps and ink pads, and gift certificates to educational supply stores always come in handy. School-related gifts that pleased in the past included books donated to the school library in honor of the teacher, globes, microscopes and a camera and film.
Mugs and plaques emblazoned with "1 Teacher" were the craze for a while, but the creative gift basket is the latest gift-giving trend and is being well-received.
Karbel recalled, for example, a Hanukkah-themed basket that included potato pancake mix, a frying pan and a stuffed blue-and-white bear, while a kindergarten teacher said a basket stuffed with finger puppets, cassettes with read-along books, puzzles and stickers is a gift she uses over and over in school.
Teachers are as individual as their students; what pleases one could seem odd to another.
A North Hills fifth-grade teacher said he enjoyed receiving sweaters and shirts, but others said clothing is a very personal gift and tough to buy for someone you don't know well.
Karbel, who has been teaching for 24 years, said that because she shares so much of her personal life with her students they know just what she likes. A baseball nut, she has received sports memorabilia, gift certificates to sushi restaurants and decorative items in her favorite colors, green and purple.
One year an imaginative mom had all the children draw pictures and sign their names on fabric. The mom then turned the fabric into two large pillows that rest in a place of honor in Karbel's den.
Common gifts include stationery, picture frames, inexpensive jewelry, household knickknacks, perfume, bubble bath, desk accessories and, of course, the ubiquitous coffee mug.
Less well-received gifts have included a certificate for a facial, hors d'oeuvre forks, an obviously previously worn blouse, cosmetics and light-up religious figures.
In schools that serve low-income families, "Giving a teacher a gift is a real luxury," said Brenda Stern-Roter, a teacher for 18 years who teaches third grade at Kittridge Elementary School in Van Nuys.
She values the notes, photos and pictures she receives, such as the one she got her first year of teaching from a boy whose card had a poem about friendship.
Schneider, who has been teaching for 25 years, summed up the general sentiments of teachers: "Whatever a child wants to give to their teacher comes from their heart, and I really appreciate the thought."
Gifts that have been popular with teachers:
Stickers, rubber stamps and ink pads
Gift certificates to educational supply stores
Books donated to the school library in honor of the teacher
Cameras and film
Creative gift baskets
Cards, pictures and personal notes of appreciation