October 11, 2007

Teacher Gifts

Leo, over at Zen Habits, has a post about inexpensive teacher gifts. It's a good list, but I suggest scrolling down to the comments. I and some other teachers have mentioned some of the problems with teacher gifts. Who needs another candy-filled coffee mug or more cheesy ornaments? The things that go away are good. Brownies and cookies, but I usually end up eating one and leaving them in the teacher's mailroom to magically disappear.

In the past couple of years I've tried a different approach. I post a list of needed (or wanted) classroom items. From printer paper and index cards to dry-erase markers, ant farms and books for the classroom library. (We always need new copies of Captain Underpants!) Magazine subscriptions for the class are good. So are gift cards for places like Target, Staples, or Borders. I say I don't need anything and will be more than happy to have a hug and their holiday wishes but if they truly feel they absolutely must get something, then make it something we all can enjoy (and that goes away)!
What do you think?


Juggling Frogs said...

Here is our usual plan for teachers' gifts at our private Jewish parochial school:

Beginning of the year, just before Rosh Hashanah (Jewish new year, when it is traditional to serve honey with everything): A honey bear (disposable plastic squeeze container shaped like a bear, filled with honey) from our family

Chanukah: Aggregate gift from the class parents - usually a gift certificate to a bookstore

Throughout the year: Aggregate gift from the class parents - flowers for the teachers at every public performance

Mid-year, via the PTA: Teacher Appreciation Week, trinkets, cocoa day, posters plastering the school walls, culminating in catered Teacher Appreciation Luncheon. Flowers for the teachers to take home on the Friday at the end of the week.

Purim (mid-Winter Jewish holiday where it is customary to share portions of food): Our family prepares the traditional bags of snacks for all the teachers with whom our children have contact, including specialty teachers, school secretaries, nurses, etc.

End of year: Aggregate class gift from all the parents for the teachers and the specialists. Usually in the form of a pre-paid Visa card, presented at one of the public year-end events.

End of year: From our family, a wrapped box of candy for each of our children's main teachers, and $5 gift cards to the (only) local kosher ice cream shop for all the faculty and staff that has contact with our kids.

Unless they keep the empty honey bear container, the only acquired clutter are the few PTA trinkets from Teacher Appreciation Week.

I wish we were able to have each child write a personal note at the end of the year, but it is always so busy and crazy. For the past 12 years, I have printed a card that I made, with a quote from Proverbs that compares learning to a crown (it's a religious school, so this isn't unwelcome). Printed at the bottom of the card, it thanks that particular teacher for crowning that particular child's head with the beginnings of education, etc.

Some teachers have already had four of my kids, so they have collected four of these cards. I am embarrassed about this, because it must seem like a form letter.

I have been to a number of the teachers' houses where these cards from years ago are stuck on their refrigerators with magnets. I wonder whether they're being kept because the teacher liked the card, or to show guests, "Hey, look at this insensitive form letter I get from this nutty parent. I teach her kid all year, and she edits a file to thank me. Thanks a lot. Harumph."

I stick with the form letter because otherwise I get all worked up about the specific wording for each teacher, obsessing about co-teachers comparing adjectives, etc. The result would be being unable to finish the letters in time.

When someone gives you another junky teacher trinket, please know that it might be coming from a genuine place in their heart, and after three weeks of obsessive shopping. The poorly wrapped pair of scratched metal candle sticks from a dollar store, might represent half a day's effort, with the colors of the ribbon carefully selected specifically to suit your taste, even if they clash terribly.

For families with many children, the gift budget may be particularly small, when stretched to cover all the teachers.

We have four children currently in school. Three are in elementary school. They have three main teachers each. There are many specialists (gym, art, reading specialists in Hebrew and English, assistant teachers, music...)

Our high school student has nine regular teachers, and also another six who work with him regularly in the "Learning Center". And countless specialists, as above.

We fear that giving gift certificates in small denominations would be insulting. It feels like leaving a dime tip at a lunch counter, for someone who have such a profound effect on our children, our future, our families...

Due to the kosher rules of our school and the varying observances of the teachers, giving homemade food gifts is not allowed.

This is why many parents resort to trinkets . They want to give something, can't afford much, want it to be personal but impersonal, to communicate much, yet it must also be equivalent for the different teachers (to avoid hurt feelings from comparisons)....

Some of us get worked up about our grammar in the accompanying notes, too!

I guess the takeaway is that sometimes parents do things that seem pro forma, but they are very heartfelt. The lack of creativity in the implementation does not reflect how deeply we appreciate your impact on our children's lives.

Teacherninjas use their powers for: said...

Thanks for the info! Like I said, just a hug makes me happy and I appreciate any gift from a kid. I'm a resource teacher, not a regular classroom teacher, so I know how thoughtful that child and/or paerent is being. And a note--any note whether it be "form-like," ungrammatical, or not even in English--is the absolute best. We--like your teacher friends--keep those forever.
My mother has taught for about a million years. The only gift she has kept from a student is a battered stuffed unicorn. It was in this condition when she received it. It was obviously a loved toy and this child, who came from a broken home and had been abused, gave it to my mom. She still cries about it, thinking how much that meant.

Juggling Frogs said...

What a beautiful story!

What an excellent teacher she must be to have merited receiving it, to have treasured it, and to have shed tears of appreciation of it.

My eyes are stinging, too.

(Due to the world's overabundance of apple imagery when talking about/to teachers, I am exercising much restraint in refraining from suggesting that the apple didn't fall far from the tree.)

Teacherninja said...

Wow. Thanks for that. I'll forward your comments to her. (Just when I was considering abandoning the blog, too).

Harrell Elizabeth said...

Don't ever abandon this blog! It is the best! You are so good at it and give great information. That's an order from your mother! My heart still warms over that unicorn and I often think of that little boy. I can still see his face the the awful bump on his head. I hope he has been able to rise above the abuse, but I fear that would not be the case.