Teachers’ Holiday Gifts – What’s A Parent To Do?

`Tis the season and everywhere we look there are suggestions for gift giving.  No doubt on your list of recipients are your children’s teachers. Newspaper articles, TV spots, websites and blogs — not to mention catalogs — provide a potpourri of possibilities for teacher gifts. There’s a lot of pressure out there to give your children’s teachers the right gift. So what should that be?

You might want to start by examining your school’s policy on gifting. Some schools set a limit, e.g. $25, some don’t allow it at all, some specify one gift from the entire class, while others say nothing on the subject. Whatever your school’s policy, it’s likely to be ignored by at least some people. My experience has been that parents feel very pressured to give the teacher a gift she/he will appreciate, and worry that no gift could influence the teacher’s perception of their child.

Some parents go all out, while others begrudgingly do the minimum. I will never forget that when I was in first grade my teacher announced to us that Becky had given her the best gift in the class. She had been invited to Becky’s house for lunch and Becky’s father, a dress manufacturer, presented her with a beautiful dress. I remember that I and the other children felt powerless and unworthy as she opened our gifts. Throughout the year I understood implicitly why Becky was the teacher’s pet.

Those days may or may not be gone. There are still some parents who will lavish expensive gifts on teachers, causing others to be resentful. There are some parents who believe teachers don’t need “tips,” and others who simply can’t afford it in these difficult economic times.

Conversely, as a former teacher and administrator, I can safely say that most teachers don’t even want gifts. They truly appreciate a lovely note or card expressing appreciation, or perhaps even a homemade gift or gift card. But while receiving a truckload of extraneous gifts is flattering, they usually don’t know what to do with all the random stuff they get.

Case in point: one year I sent an email to all 1,000 teachers in our district asking for new items that we could use to put together gift baskets for the elderly in the community.  I was inundated with “stuff” — unwanted Christmas presents. We recycled the gifts, assembling beautiful baskets wrapped in cellophane and curling ribbon, and made a lot of people happy. It’s amazing how a potholder, dishtowel, and hand lotion can be made to look so good with the proper wrapping!

There are some schools that ask parents to refrain from giving teachers gifts and instead suggest they honor their teachers with a contribution to any number of worthwhile causes.  In this way, families can contribute what they are able to afford – or not at all if they are strapped – and the gift is from the entire class. Here are some ideas:

  • A gift card to a supermarket or department store for a needy family
  • A class collection of non-perishable food items for a local food pantry
  • Purchasing holiday gifts for a homeless family
  • Providing a holiday dinner for a needy family
  • A donation to a charity

New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof recently suggested several humanitarian organizations, many of which would be appropriate as an educational exercise for students.

For example: donations to CARE can provide school uniforms; contributions to Heifer International provide gifts of livestock and training to help families improve their nutrition and generate income, and Helen Keller International’s ChildSight program screens children for vision problems and provides eyeglasses. 

Don’t forget your local charities; it’s meaningful for kids to know they are helping those close to home.

Even if it’s too late to change your school’s culture now, start a discussion now – and maybe things will change next year. Engaging parents and children in choosing the cause and bringing it to fruition will infuse both kids and adults with the true meaning of giving

Happy Holidays!


2 Comments on “Teachers’ Holiday Gifts – What’s A Parent To Do?”

  1. Meryl,

    Your blog post was right on point. It does put pressure on families, and children become quite uneasy seeing their classmates adorn the teacher with gifts, but they hadn’t brought one, or their family couldn’t afford to purchase one.

    I always purchase a gift for my daughter to take to her teachers. It is mainly just a notion of thank you for going the extra mile. I did that again this year, but at the last minute decided against giving the gift to this particular 4th grade teacher.

    Although my daughter’s kindergarten teacher told her student’s she didn’t want them to buy her a gift because THEY were her gifts, she was flooded with gifts.

    My daughter’s 1-3 grade teacher was the same teacher (because she was the GT teacher at the school for those grade levels, and taught split grade levels very well), she asked for gifts each year, and expected one.

    This year, my daughter’s teacher announced no gifts, although I’d already purchased one. We decided not to give the gift at the last minute because we felt that she didn’t deserve it. A few days earlier, we had to visit the school and invite the principal, my daughter, the teacher, and of course we were there as the parents. The teacher had to be reprimanded for things that she was saying and doing. She’d become quite unfair to my daughter who is GT. She appeared to treat her differently than the other children in her classroom who were struggling ESL students. She never wanted to differentiate the instruction to reach my daughter, and almost punished her for being so smart. The teacher began to say unkind things to her, and also sent messages to me via my daughter. This incident taught the principal a great lesson about getting into the classrooms and learning more about her teachers. The principal always regarded this teacher as one of her best until this incident (of course as an educator myself – I didn’t see this teacher as a strong one). During the meeting, the teacher truly “clowned”. The principal was embarrassed, and still apologizes when we see her. This was one year that I struggled with whether to give the gift, or not, but the truth is the teacher needed to give us a gift – an apology. The principal told her the same, but we’re still waiting.

  2. Kristen B says:

    Most professionals are limited or unable to take a gift from a client or vendor (ie doctors, financial advisors, lawyers, etc). Teachers should be no different and at the very least, gifts should be limited in some manner. I agree that the majority of teachers are appreciative of any gift and are able to treat students fairly whether they bring a gift or not, however, from my experience at our elementary school in CA, there are unfortunately a few teachers who not only accept expensive gifts (Angels box seat tickets valued at over $500, baby showers hosted by parents at lavish country club by invitation only, just to name a few), they actually seem to try to skew the students they get in their classroom based on the wealth of the family/potential for favors and gifts. This is a public school, mind you. It appears that gifts = student favoritism. It is obnoxious and hurts our school community as some families simply can’t afford to lavish gifts on their teacher in return for preferential treatment for their child. Having a set limit of a dollar amount per family/per teacher during a given school year would end this practice or at least give the helpless principal something to sink his teeth into when a teacher is out of control with his/her requests for freebies from families who have wealth or access to game tickets, Disneyland passes, etc..

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