One of my first teacher gifts was an AOL CD. I'm old. In case anyone is not old, in the 90s these CDs were mailed with somewhat unbelievable frequency to every home in America. They were free, and most people threw them away, all the time. This sweet little student wanted to give his student teacher a gift, and this was what he wrapped up. It was so very kind.
Gifting teachers can be awkward. A reader asked for my take on teacher gifts, and I doubt she is the only one who struggles with this issue, either for teacher birthdays, the holidays, or the end of the school year.
I am a mom of three who lives in Philadelphia, PA. My oldest is in first grade, and her teacher's birthday is coming up soon.
The classroom parent is accepting anonymous cash donations in an envelope for an Amex gift card or something of the like. I know some of the other mothers in the classroom are also getting other more personal gifts in addition to the gift card contribution.
I appreciate my children's teachers very much and I want to make sure they have a nice thoughtful gift. I am also not looking to outshine any other family either. I understand every family is different.
If you have a moment I would love to hear your thoughts on teacher gifts.
And the Teacher Says...
As a parent, it is easy to feel overwhelmed with the teacher gift situation. But when I reflect on the question considering my teaching experience, I have some tips to share.
5 Tips for Teacher Gifting
1. The teacher isn't grading your gift.
I have NEVER heard a teacher complain about a gift. Laugh, maybe- some parents give strange or personal gifts. I have heard teachers frustrated with parents over skipped meetings, ignored messages/notes/calls or other education-related issues, but never about a gift. Most teachers appreciate gifts, but they don't sit around comparing their haul.
2. Gift giving can be an awkward time for teachers and students.
Imagine the following scene play out. Sally brings her teacher a beautiful personalized beach tote complete with summer supplies. Sally is proud, and the teacher wants to acknowledge this kind gift, and does so with a thank you and hug. Meanwhile, student Sue is watching carefully. Sue's family didn't give a gift and she feels ashamed, embarrassed or left out. It's a scene I have watched play out many times. The take-away isn't to skip the personalized gifts, it's to try to give them privately- before or after school.
3. Group gifts are a great option.
Some schools have a policy about gifting, and if yours does I think you should follow it. That said, I am not suggesting that parents skip teacher gifts. We all know teachers don't get paid enough money, and I don't know a teacher who doesn't like a little extra something. I love the group gifts- people can anonymously contribute to a gift card and the gift is from all students regardless of who contributes.
4. The sentimental stuff matters.
The best gift I ever got was from the Dad of a fourth grade student I taught many years ago. I have no idea what was in the gift bag he delivered- a small gift card or mug. But this Dad left work to come down to the school on his lunch hour. He told me that I changed his son's life. At his last school his son was barely reading and was being bullied, the Dad explained with tears in his eyes. And now, he said, he was reading novels weekly and loved going to school and learning. I cannot tell you how often I thought of that visit and his words. Teaching can be a draining profession, but this Dad filled my little "why do I do this?" reservoir for many years.
To answer your original question, I think you should donate to the group gift, in whatever amount is comfortable for your family. And then help your daughter make or write something meaningful for the teacher. Ask her some probing questions like "What do you like about Ms. Teacher? What does Ms. Teacher do best? How has Ms. Teacher helped you this year?" Add your own note with some specific things you appreciate about the teacher.
5. Consider thanking adults beyond the classroom teacher.
Be it a gift card or a heartfelt thank you note, think about other adults in the school that have had an impact on your child or your family. Maybe it is the school nurse, front desk staff, or crossing guard, but these adults all contribute to our schools and are often overlooked.
I hope that I have eased some of the stress surrounding teacher gift giving. Do any readers have suggestions? Maybe another teacher has something to add? Let me know in the comments. And as always, feel free to ask me your education questions.