Friday, May 09, 2008

Teacher Appreciation Gifts

I get a little defensive when it comes to conversations about teachers. That's probably a whole post in itself, but last week I read a magazine article about teacher gifts that really raised my blood pressure. The author, a mom who is tired of being asked to give money toward group gifts, had a point, but in making her argument she managed to make every teacher in America sound like a greedy, ungrateful, undeserving gift beggar. Or maybe I just took it a little too personally.

Here's a quote from the article:
"...the grand finale to a school year that already featured a holiday-season gift frenzy and Teacher Appreciation Week. During the latter, my children are supposed to take not just any token of appreciation, but specific ones: chocolate on Monday, flowers on Tuesday…."

And another:
"I admire the efforts of every person who comes in contact with my child, but that doesn't mean they deserve a prize. Many workers never get year-end bonuses. Those who do are paid by the employer, not the client. True, in a convoluted way through the wonder of taxes, a parent is both employer and client to a teacher, but believe me, my taxes are already a wonder."

I have been a teacher and I am married to a teacher. I have relatives who are teachers and lots of friends who are or have been teachers. If you feel that we are soliciting gifts, then don't buy us anything. No one is forcing you to appreciate your teachers materialistically. If you're thirty-five years old and you still can't stand up to the peer pressure of the other parents, there's not much we can do for you. Just because we tell you what we like doesn't mean we expect you to run right out and buy three. Oh and while I'm picking this article apart - there are lots of professions where the clients do give a year end gift. The hairdresser, the mailman, the newspaper delivery boy, the piano teacher, and the list goes on....

If your budget is tight and you want to send a gift for your child's teacher, pick just one event...Christmas, teacher appreciation week, or the end of the year. Sending something for all three is way over and above. (Not that we don't love it when you go over and above... : ) Or better yet, do it at a random time of the year, when it's totally unexpected.

In this mom's defense, she did finish the article with the following paragraph:
"The number-one thing that teachers want, according to a 2007 National Education Association online poll in which 2,500 teachers participated, is not a big show of thanks, but the thank-you itself. A note that praises his or her efforts with your child conveys more than a gift card ever could. Things have become the currency of gratitude in this materialistic era. Yet a carefully crafted card, a note praising the person to the administration or a standing ovation may leave a far more lasting impression. Makes a pretty good lesson for children, too."

That's so true. Michael comes home every year at Christmas break with a large bag of gifts. He thoroughly enjoys the notes that the kids write themselves. The ones that say "Mr. P----, You make musik so much fun." and "Sorre if I was talkg to much." Or the ones from the parents that say "Thank you for instilling a love of music in our daughter. Your patience during after school practices showed through in the fabulous play last week. We appreciate all the time and effort you put into it." No, we don't keep them all, but those notes keep a teacher going. The cute set in the picture to the left had a small bag of M&Ms attached.

We don't keep all the gifts either. (gasp!) I could decorate six Christmas trees if I kept all the decorations we've been given over the past ten years. I'd also have enough mugs to serve hot chocolate to every kid in the neighborhood if we kept every candy filled Christmas themed mug. And some years we think about opening a store just to resell boxes of Hershey's Pot Of Gold and Russell Stover samplers. We do have to give some things away.

Oh, and just because the sparkly gold bird with the clip has become a gag gift among our family members, doesn't mean we were ungrateful. Some elementary school child provided us with years of unintended fun, and he/she doesn't even know it!

So if you don't want to give your child's teacher a gift - don't. Your half hearted, because-everyone-else-is gift might become a family heirloom in a way you never intended. Or less exciting, it may end up at Goodwill.

But, having said all that, if you do want to give, and you want to do it inexpensively, here are a few ideas we think are worth it, always accompanied by a note:

1. A full size candy bar. (we're talking 33 cents on sale here!)
2. A cute tumbler with a drink mix-in packet inside (this one has the potential to go the way of the mugs, but for now it still works.)
3. Home-made cookies, fudge, breads, etc. - as long as they are GOOD - don't send the burnt ones or the ones you made two weeks ago!
4. A tomato plant - we got this one yesterday. I loved the idea and I don't even like tomatoes!
5. A potted flower
6. Flower seeds (c'mon...these can be really inexpensive too - just wrap 'em up pretty!)
7. A basket of fruit
8. bag of popcorn with a drink or a blockbuster card

Here are a few things teachers would love to ask you to avoid. They won't because they'd sound snobby...but I'm not a teacher anymore, so I'll ask on their behalf.
1. mugs
2. Hershey's Pot of Gold
3. Whitman Samplers
4. Home made crafts - unless you are really good at them -so good people buy them.
5. Strange Christmas ornaments like ones with last years date or odd looking reindeer with one eye and a green tail.
6. crumbled, smooshed, melted, burnt, or otherwise compromised foods.
7. Dollar store knick knacks
8. Smelly candles
9. Lotions

And here are a few of the best gifts we've ever received, regardless of price:
1. My The West Wing travel mug. (A student visiting NY brought it back for me. Best Ever!)
2. Custom granite cutting board.
3. CD - these are a bit hit and miss, but most of the time we really like what we're given.
4. Dove or Ghiradelli chocolates
5. Gift certificates - these indicate that you truly appreciate a teacher!
the grocery store
the gas station
Barnes and Noble

And one last thing. If your daughter takes her male music teacher a flower, the printed card from the florist should not read "I love you. Faith" It causes his wife unnecessary stress when she finds it in his car.


Room for Grace said...

As a former teacher myself, thank you very much!!!

TurtlesButterfly said...

Julie I love this! I can only imagine finding the flower

Sorry my cats scare you...they scare me too.

Anonymous said...

I am sitting here enjoying some popcorn.. compliments of one of my students. :)

My all time favorite gift... a hand colored picture of a boy praying, with the handwritten caption... I am praying for you, Miss Weber!"

KarenW said...

Great post! I still have (and use) an apron that was given to me by a kindergarten student about 18 years ago.