One year I had a parent give me a survey to fill out. It asked me all kinds of things: favorite drink, candy, magazines, music, movies, stores, stuff for the classroom. It ended up being sort of like a wish list. Then, she sent a note to all the kids in my class about it. She didn't put all the items on the list (so that I wouldn't end up with 10 issues of the same magazine), but she said that parents could contact her for gift suggestions.
It was soooo nice, because it was the only year that I could really use most of my gifts. (Nothing went straight to the next yard sale!) I also think families appreciated it b/c it had things for all price ranges.
I did request that the parent emphasize how much I value letters/pictures/cards on the note that went home (so that no one felt pressured to buy). I had some families and students write me some really nice letters that I know I'll keep forever.
It was such a thoughtful idea and I appreciated it so much! I mean...how many coffee cups and apple things can one teacher have????
One of my very best gifts has been having 2 parents come to my class right before lunch to surprise me. They took my kids to lunch and recess while I went out to eat for lunch! It was such a neat, unexpected treat. When I returned, the parents stared at me, glassy eyed and said, "How in the world do you manage to eat and do all of that?" That was almost as good as getting to go out to eat!