Friday, December 10, 2010

Teacher's Gifts

One of the inevitable side effects of having kids in school is the twice a year buying of the gifts ritual.  Two times a year, all parents are expected to do something nice for the teachers.  Holidays and end of the school year.

Where exactly this expectation comes from, I am not totally sure.  I think I can say with a fair degree of certainty that most teachers don't go into the profession for the gifts.  The kids, for the most part, would probably opt to make a nice card or draw a picture for their teachers.  Who then is the real reason that we parents feel so compelled to buy gifts for all the teachers twice a year?  The only culprit left to blame is us, the parents. 

If it wasn't for the fact that reality often follows the Keeping Up With the Joneses mindset, it might not be such a big deal.  In my experience, though, parents seem to jockey for bragging rights with gifts, often putting the teachers in an uncomfortable position.  If it wasn't that way, parents could get a small, modest, heartfelt gift and be done with it.  And some people do. Up until this year, I've resisted the peer pressure and baked cookies for teachers.  The kids help bake the cookies after we find out which ones the teachers would like, then they help package and deliver them. 

This year, though, I am not sure I will get to all that baking.  Then again, I'm just not sure I want to.  And the classroom teachers the kids have this year are all different than we've had in the past, so there is no expectation of home baked goodies.  And to be honest, I am fine with that.

I am going in on the class gift, organized by one parent, in one class.  The others...well, I haven't thought much about it yet. 

In order to keep the gift giving at a manageable level, I think it is best to set a dollar amount you will contribute per teacher and stick with it.  Whether you are going in on a group gift or buying a gift card to a coffee place, keep the amount the same.   Personally, I keep it at $10 per teacher/aide/school employee. 

Class gifts can be the simplest, easiest way to get a teacher something that they want and that means something from the kids.  The precondition here is that whoever is organizing it actually knows what the teacher would appreciate the most.   A $150 gift card isn't awesome if it's to a store you never go to.  Keep the requested per child contribution low.  $5-10 at most.  If doing a class gift, please take into consideration that there will always be families that can't contribute.  Do not exclude those children from signing the card, though.  If you are worried about racking up brownie points with the teacher, offer to volunteer or something else, don't try to do it in dollar amounts. 

If a class gift isn't being organized or you don't want to take part in it, the same rules apply.  I guarantee the teachers don't want or need 20 apple themed picture frames or 30 coffee mugs.  Don't buy them things like that.  Also, don't buy them things they won't use or don't want.  For instance, don't get a coffee gift card for someone who doesn't drink coffee!  Don't get a massage for a person who can't stand them!  Most teachers would love classroom donations - feel free to ask what they need!  I am sure they will tell you!  Keep the dollar amount in the same neighborhood though.  $5-10.

Don't forget the other people involved...the art teacher, the music teacher, the PE teacher, the office staff, the janitor.  They deserve recognition too!  This is another reason that the dollar amount should be kept at a manageable level.  You probably have more people to get things for than you realize. 

As with the classroom teachers, though, I don't think that most of the people who work in any capacity with your children at school do so with the expectation of lavish gifts.  They do it because they love it.  And to be honest, many of them would be more touched by a handwritten note or a picture drawn by the kids than a gift they will never use.

So, as a summary:
1. Keep the dollar amount low, manageable and within your budget.
2. Only get them something they actually want and can use.
3. A little something with meaning means a lot more than a big something with no heart.

Resist the urge to spend a lot of money on teacher's gifts.  And please, please, please do not attempt to organize a class gift that requires a contribution of more than $5-10 per child.  The teachers don't expect it, the kids don't have any real investment with it, and there are a lot of people who truly can't afford it.

The biggest smiles I've ever seen on a teacher's face involved hand prints of the kids on canvas bags, pictures and cookies.  And those things, they sure didn't cost much.


  1. As a former teacher, I never ever expected gifts...but was always happy to get them. My first year teaching I had a class of low income kids...all of them were bused in from downtown L.A. While my "local" well off kids purchased some nice ornaments or gift cards the best ones were from those low income kids. Most wrote notes, but some went out of their way to go to the dollar store, spending I am sure their lunch money to buy me a gift. Nothing was more precious to me than those cheap gifts because each one put so much thought into what they thought I would like. But the most special, ones I still have today came from the heart...those little notes of thanks. I've kept those in a special book to help me remember why I chose teaching and how important those little minds are.

  2. I do have the first ornament ever given to me my first year teaching wayyyyy back in the early 1990's before I became a parent. My kids ask me about it every year... and every year I wonder what that young man is up to.... I too kept the notes in a little scrapbook. The gifts from the heart mean so much more than the expensive ones, because you are right. Teachers do not choose that profession for the gifts! LOL!


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