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The Gift Conundrum

Apparently, teachers aren't much different than the rest of us. They like gifts ... if they're useful, according to a recent Washington Post story. Think baked goods, gift cards and gifts that reflect the teacher's interest. The odd regift and apple ornaments are no-nos, though.

I readily admit I'm not usually one to give gifts to other adults, especially those outside my front door. But other parent friends and acquaintances have cured me of my Scrooge-like instinct to ignore the December holidays. While I still won't be caught leaving money for the newspaper delivery man or the mailman or an extra large tip for the hair stylist, I recognize that the teachers spending time and effort to help my children learn are in a different category.

Parents at different schools approach the holidays in their own ways. Room parents at our preschool post folders in the office. You put your money in, sign your child's name, and the money pools to buy mall gift cards for the teachers. Easy enough.

The elementary school, though, has a PTA-sponsored "staff gift fund drive." Parents give money that then pools together to improve the lives of the teachers at the school. The form lets parents list any teachers they want to honor with the gift. The notice that came home listed what the pooled money was used for last year: water for the teacher's lounge cooler, a photocopier service contract and supplies for the four staff bathrooms. Maybe it's just me, but honoring teachers by paying for bathroom goods just doesn't seem like a holiday gift. It seems like a bare necessity! So, I think I'll be scrambling to get some gift cards before Friday.

How do you and your schools handle teacher gifts at the holidays? If you're a teacher, what do you most appreciate from parents?

By Stacey Garfinkle |  December 17, 2007; 7:00 AM ET  | Category:  Elementary Schoolers , Preschoolers
Previous: Recording Memories | Next: Tagging Kids 'Special'


Wow, this is really appropriate because I am delivering my daughter's gifts today. I wasn't really sure what to do last year. My daughter goes to preschool in the public school. So the first year, I looked in the school flyers for several weeks leading up to holiday break. When nothing was mentioned, and no other parent called me, I decided to go with gift cards. I had read in the Washington Post that you should give NO MORE then $50 to any individual teacher. So we give the main teacher, who does do more then the other teachers, a $50 gc to a book store, $25 to aids, bus driver, speech teacher (who sees my daughter for one half an hour a week), and bus driver aid. Since she is in preschool, she does not go to gym class, art or music. But they do go to the library. So I donated one book to the library. I bought a nice hard cover book that would match a preschool reading level. I had also read that in the WaPost that you should donate a book to the library in honor of all the speciality teachers. When my daughter starts to go to larger classes (like kindergarten or first grade), I will just give the main teacher $25 too. Because with 25 kids, I assume she will be doing less for each student. We also give $50/worker at the day care. It is probably too much but it is what we started with, so we will just continue. She only has one more year to go before she is done with day care. I suppose I will give $25 gc to the before and after school workers too. It does add up. I think we paid $500 between the daycare and the preschool this year. But it was $100 more then usual. Her teacher got married this year. So we also included a gc for her wedding. She was also in a different class for the first two months and then they moved her. So I did give $25 to her first teacher and aid. Now, I think if money is an issue, people should be happy with a card and a plate of cookies or just a nice letter. A gift should NOT be expected in the public school. Even though the teachers may deserve them, not everyone can afford to give something at this time of year. A gift of time and talent should be as appreciative.

Posted by: foamgnome | December 17, 2007 7:20 AM | Report abuse

Oh one other note, ( I did post this on balance last week) but one time I gave my daughter's speech teacher a thank you card with out a gc. She had seen my daughter for one hour a week for a month. And she opened the card and when she realized there was not a gc in the envelope, she looked totally disappointed. I keep reading teachers appreciate letters and cards more then monetary gifts but I am not sure. I wonder if they just say that because they think it sounds appropriate. Or I just got a nasty teacher. Not sure. But I will never cheap out again. I will always include a gc. And in the WaPost article it says Fairfax discourages teacher gifts. I don't know about that one either. Because if they really feel that way, they should publish something in their weekly or monthly newsletter about that. The teachers all accepted our gifts last year for December holidays, teacher appreciation, and end of school year.

Posted by: foamgnome | December 17, 2007 7:31 AM | Report abuse

I think I read on WaPo that it's actually illegal for post office employees to accept cash, and it's similar for a lot of government workers.

I just organized my child's daycare class gift. We gave the 3 primary caregivers a week's tuition, plus gifts to the floater and the 2 center managers.

Once she hits public school, I'll be happy to organize a class gift. One big Visa gift card is much better than 25 candles! Plus, each gives what they can and feels no pressure to compete. Hopefully.

Posted by: atb2 | December 17, 2007 7:43 AM | Report abuse

Inviting the teacher over for dinner is really cool! The hour and a half is well worth the $25 Christmas card and cash. Your child may squirm a little.

Even better is the teacher accepts a glass or 2 of wine! Hahaha!

Posted by: DandyLion | December 17, 2007 7:46 AM | Report abuse

I think I read on WaPo that it's actually illegal for post office employees to accept cash, and it's similar for a lot of government workers.

atb2: That is funny because on NPR they said you should give your postal worker $25 cash. Actually fed employees can accept a gift of no more then $20. But really, no one really gives ordinary fed employees gifts. Usually it is about gifts from one fed employee to another. It is not about private citizens giving holiday gifts to fed employees. Also it discourages companies from giving gifts to fed employees.

Posted by: foamgnome | December 17, 2007 7:54 AM | Report abuse

At Christmas, I will give the teacher a $25 gift card to Staples with the expectation that this will help out the classroom. And my daughter will supplement it with a homemade gift of cookies or an ornament.

I have found that the teachers really appreciate the office supply gift cards because they can buy things for the classroom without using their own money. I've known them to buy industrial strength staplers, hole punches, small whiteboard, etc. with my cards. These are things the school has to share across classrooms and teachers appreciate having one of their own.

Posted by: AnotherMom | December 17, 2007 7:56 AM | Report abuse

My kids have gone to the same school (K-8 private school) since kindergarten. My oldest is now at high school but my youngest is still there. It is a small, family like atmosphere and my kids know most of the teachers very well. To solve the problem of what to get ALL the teachers, we provide a lot of home-baked goods about a week before the holiday break so they can all enjoy them in the teacher's lounge. Usually, we bake about 6 cheesecakes and a couple of other cakes. The baking is a family affair too! The kids feel great pride in the fact that about a month before Christmas, the teachers start putting in their requests for their favorite goodies!

I feel terrible that we haven't had a weekend free this year to do it. We have decided that they will be getting a New Years present instead and we will spend New Years day baking for them.

Posted by: MD Mom | December 17, 2007 7:58 AM | Report abuse

We do small baskets of baked goods for my oldest's elementary teachers. The class usually organizes a $5 per kid giftcard purchase as well. Other people choose to give more if they can. My middle daughter has 11 teachers in her school that rotate through the classes. Someone organizes a gift card purchase with a $25 per family donation. I usually send treats for the teachers during the last week of school. My little ones preschool teachers posted classroom requests at the scholastic book fair. We bought a book from each of them, but will also be giving the teachers giftcards for themselves to a restaurant they often visit for lunch. I don't think it is fair that they should only recieve things that benefit the students and the classroom. They should get soemthing for themselves!

Last year we made a basket for my oldests teacher and her family (we knew she had several young children). We bought gift cards for movie rental, popcorn, cute popcorn bowls and made caramel corn. She loved it and it was inexpensive.

Posted by: Momof5 | December 17, 2007 8:36 AM | Report abuse

I give alternative gifts from the Alternative Gift Market, International organization. This is a donation to an organization that really needs the money, as opposed to teachers (and I am one) who doesn't need the money. This year the money I am giving buys rice for families who work in rice fields but can't afford rice for themselves. I've been doing this for several years, and have gotten nice feedback from teachers about it. As a teacher, I always feel awkward about receiving gifts--particularly as I work with a low income population, who probably needs the money they spent on the gift way more than I do.

Posted by: Anonymous | December 17, 2007 8:37 AM | Report abuse

When our kids were in Fairfax county schools, there were wealthy families in our area who gave teachers and the principal a summer week at their beach house as a Christmas gift.

Personally, I think teachers should be required to declare any gift worth over 50 dollars (like other federal employees do), and that that data should be made publicly available somewhere. Teachers should not be allowed to accept gifts larger than that.

These same families also made large donations of things like Redskins tickets and weeks at their beach houses and ski lodges during our PTA_sponsored Silent Auction. We ultimately felt driven out of a public school because we couldn't afford to pay the fees that the administration expected.

Posted by: justlurking | December 17, 2007 8:44 AM | Report abuse

SCHOOL SUPPLIES! I teach High School and I spend at least 150$ a year on pens, paper, photocopy paper and other supplies for my students. Even in middle-class and upper-middle class schools there are students who don't have the needed materials (Either they forget them on certain days, or can't afford them). A gift certificate to Staples or an office supply store is always welcome, regardless of what the teacher teaches.

Food gift certificates are also nice. Starbucks, restaurants, grocery stores etc.

Please, please, please. As much as the 'world's greatest teacher' gifts are cute, they aren't good for much besides collecting dust and most teacher have tons of them. Spend 5 minutes and write in a card something nice your teacher has done for your child and skip the mug/magnet.

Posted by: SeaKat | December 17, 2007 8:54 AM | Report abuse

justlurking - you sound like me. I also have felt like the poor stepchild to all the wealthy families in our area. But I refuse to sacrifice to keep up with them. When the kids were younger, we would spend a day making and decorating cookies, and decorate bags and boxes to put them in. Sure, these gifts are nothing compared to $50 gift cards ($50? geez). But my hope is that at least the teachers appreciate them, even if the other parents turn their noses up at them.

Posted by: jenny | December 17, 2007 8:57 AM | Report abuse

Wow - $50 each for GCs. I'd go broke. There are 6 teachers in the preschool/daycare where DS is, and where DD used to be. All of them are involved to one degree or another in their care, so all deserve recognition. DD moved to a different daycare in November, and there is a lead teacher there, with 2 aides. She is also at a Ffx County preschool program 5 days a week, and there is an awesome teacher there, with an aide. So there's no way I can get 11 GCs at $50 a pop.

I'm lazy and generally don't bake. What I really want to do for DS's school is give a single donation and have them use it for the school - supplies, repairs, whatever. But even then, that doesn't recognize individual effort and seems impersonal. A $15 GC seems cheap, especially since I gave them each $20 or $25 last year, when DS and DD were at the same school.

I appreciate the work these teachers and aides do, and I want to do something for them. But I just can't afford but so much. Plus when you're in the public school, they expect you to do tons of fund-raising. I feel tapped out already and it's only DD in a part-time pre-K program!

Posted by: SlackerParent | December 17, 2007 9:24 AM | Report abuse

I'm relieved that this year the class moms took up a collection to do a pooled gift card. I won't do anything personal above and beyond that except a holiday card with a nice note.

I tend to give a gift card at the end of the school year. I like to give a Border's gift card for $25. I figure the teacher can choose some summer reading/a CD/aDVD for herself or choose reading material for the classroom. I get the feeling that there are some teachers out there who might be uncomfortable with accepting the large dollar value of gifts from parents. I think that another mom's example of teachers buying "luxury" supplies such as a large stapler is an indication of this. One of the great things about the gift cards is that it lets the teacher spend on herself or the classroom based on her comfort level.

Foamgnome, you are very generous indeed. I'm glad you thought of the library. It's interesting that the WaPo seems to OK gift up to $50 for classroom teachers but suggests a book donation "in honor of the specialty teachers." I think the specialty teachers would each prefer a personal note of appreciation--I just don't see a book donation doing much for the music teacher.

I truly am not trying to be snarky--it's true that most "specials" teachers don't get much one-on-one time with the children. I would guess that most school librarians would be delighted with a gift to enhance the collection. I know that at the public library where I worked, we were very uncomfortable if someone indicated that a gift was meant for an individual. The conflict of interest was too murky--I'm sure the vast majority of givers would not expect special treatment for giving, but I would have felt awful if I ever thought someone was tipping me. If it was a food item that could be shared, our managers told us to thank the giver and emphasize that the gift would be put in the lunchroom for all the staff to share. There were only a handful of long-time library customers that brought treats; we never expected them from anyone though the kindness was always appreciated and the treats enjoyed by all!

I do think it might be better to give the school library a monetary donation rather than selecting a book though. You could ask the librarian about the best form for this. A book card might be the way to go, or the library may have an account set up for donations (many schools have birthday book programs). You could even give the librarian a short list of your favorite children's books. The thing is that there might already be enough copies of the book you choose or there might be a book beloved by the librarian that is in tatters and needs replacing.

I wonder if the "specials" teachers would enjoy getting to choose a book for their subjects for the school library. It just seems that it might be a more personal way of honoring them than giving a general subject book. Maybe the school librarian would be willing to designate a certain percentage of donations to books about art, music, and sports and the "specials" teachers could help select the titles.

Just some ideas about books. I know that at the public library the librarians appreciate being the ones to choose the titles based on the needs of the library. Book donations were always very welcome for the book sales though, and we did have a system for going through the book donations to look for things to add to our circulating collection. When I volunteered at the school library, I got the sense that the school librarian preferred the flexibility to put her collection development expertise to work.

Posted by: Marian | December 17, 2007 9:30 AM | Report abuse

Ok - I volunteer for the Scrooge position.

I don't want to give gifts to the teachers. I am happy that my children adore their teachers and thrive in school. I am grateful that the teachers teach them, encourage them, and work hard.

BUT, I don't like the group gifts and I don't want to give an individual gift, and I am always the one the other mothers find annoying b/c I keep saying - isn't this too much?

Group gifts are particularly annoying b/c I don't want to participate and I'm always being pressured to contribute so that the teacher gets one lovely gift (like money) that she really wants, and not just a bunch of junk - an attitude of entitlement, arrogance and snobbery that really irks me.

My children attend a Catholic school, so the teachers are paid less than the public school, and I still don't want to give them gifts. In both situations - public or private, I pay their salary. My husband and I don't make a lot of money - in fact, I am sure that teacher salaries are higher than ours many years. But even if we were wealthy, I don't want to give gifts to people to thank them for doing their job.

In fact, I notice no different treatment of terrible teachers that everyone hates and that the PTA got together and tried to remove for outrageous behavior - there were still perky groups of mothers (no fathers have ever asked for contributions, so I omit them here) running around buying gifts for the teacher who was a monster.

So I wish everyone would go back to giving whatever gift THEY WANT to give and FINANCE it themselves, instead of picking my pocket and then showing off to the teacher how thoughtful they are.

I do express my appreciation to teacher, but it's typically by way of letter or card specifically addressing what I appreciate about the teacher's work, and I do it at the end of the year.

Overall, I think the gift group makes individuals who aren't wealthy feel uncomfortable, and I think the group pressure is ridiculous. And everyone here who wants to buy gifts - go right ahead and do so. Please stop asking and reminding those of us who are ignoring you about this chance to contribute. We're aware of it, and we're ignoring you in the hopes you'll stop asking.

Posted by: Scrooge | December 17, 2007 9:43 AM | Report abuse

As the wife of a teacher, I can say gift cards are always a safe bet and they don't have to be for a lot. My husband loves the $5 Starbucks gift cards he gets from some of his kids. Absolute worst gift to get a teacher is by far a coffee mug. We have almost 50 coffee mugs in our cabinets. My husband won't give them away, and we don't even drink coffee. I will also add my husband enjoys gifts but in no way expects them. Since we are also on a tight budget, we understand not everyone can afford gifts for teachers. As for what we usually give our kids' teachers ... $25 gift cards for the single teachers of our oldest two ... for the daycare staff of 5 who regularly look after my 2 yr old, I got a gift basket and put a variety of $10 gift cards in it as well as lotions, hand sanitizer, etc so each person can pick what they want.

Posted by: Teacher's Wife | December 17, 2007 9:49 AM | Report abuse

Hi there - as this is my first holiday season with a child I'm a bit unsure what to do. My son is 11 months old and in an in-home day care which is part of the Virginia Infant Toddler Network. My drop off/pick-up times don't match the other parents two parents so I rarely see them and haven't had an opportunity to ask, but they are also in their first Christmas of child care, I think. What is appropriate in this situation I wonder? I suppose I should call the network office and see if they have ideas or maybe you all will? I do really like my provider and my son seems very happy there so I do want to do something, but am just not sure what and time is growing short!

Posted by: alexandriamom | December 17, 2007 10:02 AM | Report abuse


I certainly won't slam you for wanting to limit the excess. I personally am grateful to be able to contribute to a gift card instead of buying a personal gift. I actually find it more economical and less hassle than buying a gift. Of course, a thoughtful note/card is every bit as nice in my book and can be given by anyone.

I refuse to get into some kind of one-upmanship and feel pressured to give a personal gift on top of my contribution to the group gift.

I should have said in my earlier post that the cards that we received at the public library were displayed so that all staff could read them. I appreciated a specific anecdote about how the library and/or staff helped the sender every bit as much as I would enjoy a treat in the lunch room. Staff members would point out the particularly heartfelt notes to each other. Though we recognized that we were paid to provide good service, everyone likes the boost of a genuine thank-you once in a while. That's welcome anytime of year.

I think that for a lot of us the holidays provide a reminder to take the time to show appreciation. It's a shame that sometimes it turns into a chance to compete for some overzealous uber-parent types. That makes it unpleasant for the rest of us.

Next target--too many holiday parties during classtime. My kid had a Halloween craft party with Oriental Trading Co. "craft" one day and a regular Halloween party with treats on another day. How do we empower the teachers/administrators to push back on some of this? I also don't appreciate the PTA direct marketing to young grade-schoolers through bookfairs and holiday boutiques. The bookfairs have way too much junk that distract from the books (30-40% of the offerings are connected to licensed products at Scholastic bookfairs). The holiday boutique was a lot of cheap junk--probably full of lead paint--practically straight to landfill. Bah! Humbug!

Posted by: Marian | December 17, 2007 10:32 AM | Report abuse

I see Scrooge's point, although I do give a gift to my children's main teacher when they're in elementary school. We have really gone over the top on this subject (foamgnome's post pretty much sums this up. $500 for gifts for teachers/aides/caregivers for ONE child? That's more money than I spent on the gifts under our tree for all four of my children!)

Group gifts are OK, but why not save them for teacher appreciation week or the end of the school year when it makes more sense for the group to say "hey, thanks for being such a great teacher." The holidays should be a time where individuals give gifts to important people in their lives. We pressure parents year round to send in money for things at school - why not leave them alone at this one time of the year and allow them to make their own decisions regarding giving?

And on that note, I wouldn't be caught dead giving a HOLIDAY gift to a teacher in the form of something to buy school supplies. Once again, save that for other times of the year. Give a donation in October for those sorts of things. Or in April, when supplies are dwindling. A holiday gift should be more personal, in my opinion. Find out what they enjoy and give them a coffee or bookstore gc, or a gc to a small local restaurant they like.

Posted by: Ramona | December 17, 2007 10:37 AM | Report abuse

... Staples? For classroom supplies? And you think they truly like this and aren't just being polite? Are you serious??

Lol just as long as you don't complain if your husband gives you an iron or a vacuum cleaner on Christmas morning!!

Posted by: To AnotherMom | December 17, 2007 10:39 AM | Report abuse

I don't think it is just the parents that feel obligated to give gifts. Last year, my daughter got a gift from her teacher for Christmas, Valentine's day, Halloween and end of the year. At Christmas it was a rather large gift. Each child recieved an air plane that opened up to include legos. She also got a gift at christmas and end of the year from the bus driver and her aid. I think she got a stuffed elephant at christmas and a teddy bear at the end of the year. Of course preschool classes are pretty small but I thought it was unnecessary. And I was really surprised that each child would recieve a gift.
Marian: I like your suggestion of the gc to the library. I will do that next year.
Scrooge-Why not write a nice holiday card to the teacher. It is pretty much free and it means a lot to them.

Posted by: foamgnome | December 17, 2007 10:46 AM | Report abuse

Foamgnome - I believe you'll find that that sort of gift giving on the behalf of teachers will cease as your daughter gets older. Preschool isn't school.

But if teachers and bus drivers and aides are really feeling obligated to gift give like that to the students in their care, I don't want to hear any more comments about having to buy school supplies out of their own money. If people aren't strong enough to say "enough already! I love these kids but they don't need another junky toy, and I simply can't afford to do this" then they have no place complaining about the high cost of working as a teacher.

Posted by: Ramona | December 17, 2007 10:56 AM | Report abuse

i'm glad you brought this up because there's something that really winds me up about gifts to teachers or caregivers. while i'm sure educators are delighted to get gifts enclosed with a note from your child or a picture your child made, i wonder about the sanity of the parents who think a teacher or caregiver would be DELIGHTED to only receive a picture (framed or unframed) of their child. how presumptuous! grandparents love that, but people you pay to teach or watch your children in truth prefer something useful.

as the child of a teacher, i remember a zillion mugs, jewelry in the shape of apples (would the giver wear that?), cologne and bath beads (did my mom stink?? i think not!), candles, candy, and assorted garbage. did parents think my mother or other teachers went home and held a seance in the bathtub while sipping tea and eating bon bons? newsflash: she was grading papers in her spare time! anyway, i know my mom would have been just as happy to either receive no gift or to get a gift card (though they didn't have them back then), especially one to a teacher store where she could purchase some of the classroom materials she usually purchased with her own money.

i have no problem giving teachers and caregivers a present. they work harder than a lot of us do -- especially caregivers who aren't represented by a union like the teachers are and so aren't compensated in a way befitting what they do. in elementary school, things seem to be more organized, with someone stepping up to be the central conduit through which other parents donate. i like that. i bet the teachers do, too.


Posted by: sher | December 17, 2007 11:28 AM | Report abuse

I just called my sister, who has been an elementary school teacher for over 20 years--and she LOVES the Staples gift cards. Clue to new parents--Teachers spend a lot of their own money on supplies, and this really helps out. Good teachers give back, and if they need supplies they can't get at the school, they buy them themselves. My sister said she has a great time shopping at Staples right after Christmas for classroom supplies. And she really feels uncomfortable getting more personal type gifts. She asked me to add--please no baked goods! Every teacher she knows is on a diet, because they usually don't have any extra time to get to a gym.

Posted by: dc | December 17, 2007 11:52 AM | Report abuse

Our school district's policy is:
Staff members are not permitted to accept or solicit for personal use a gift worth more than token value from a pupil or parent... Because many children enjoy giving things to their teachers, the District suggests that gifts take the form of a book, tape or game for the classroom or Library Media Center.

I like this a lot. It discourages not only one-ups-manship, but also those unfortunate class gifts that leave some kids out because their parents can't afford to chip in (my daughter's school spans quite the socio-economic diversity).

We're giving a festive little bag of cookies and our family photo-greeting card with a note from my daughter. That's plenty.

Posted by: AnnieJo | December 17, 2007 11:56 AM | Report abuse

We do the group gift card - $20 per family so its $10 per teacher. We were able to get Visa cards for $150 for each teacher this year. Most of the parents thanked me for organizing the effort. I try to make sure that participation is voluntary. I only call each family once so as not to seem pushy. At the end of the year, I give each teacher a bouquet in a vase from my garden. With the way everyone watches their weight, I'd be loathe to give baked goods, I know that a plate of cookies is the LAST think I need around this time of year. My children go to a private school and aren't paid nearly what they should be relative to what we pay so I think of the year end gift as no different than the year end bonus that my husband gets at work. Why shouldn't they get a year end bonus simply because they chose to work with kids rather than corporate america? Of all the people we interact with in a day, I think our teachers deserve the most recognition of all!

Posted by: Moxiemom | December 17, 2007 12:09 PM | Report abuse

I found that every gift I give gets paid back to me time and time again. When I get that gift out to the dry cleaner or to the newspaper guy or to my kids teachers it always ends up where the teacher made one of my kids the special star of something or another. My wife and I were legendary at our daycare for what amounted to token gifts, so we always got special treatment from the staff. We have 7 teachers now, so that's $300 minimum, but you know, they made my son the star of the play and if that's how it is, that's how it's going to be.

Posted by: DCer | December 17, 2007 12:15 PM | Report abuse

When I was a teacher I also never received any gifts (except for a few pieces of dollar store bric-a-brac) because my students were poor. Receiving anything from them beyond a drawn picture or cookies made me uncomfortable, actually. I bought all that classroom stuff -- tissues, pencils, markers, a globe, baskets to put books in, whatever -- myself. I think I once had a parent volunteer in the classroom, obviously they were usually at work.

If your kids go to a wealthy school where classrooms are routinely supplied with the usual stuff, you might want to consider giving to a poorer school.

Posted by: Anonymous | December 17, 2007 12:20 PM | Report abuse

Geez DCer, I hope you don't plan on bribing the public school teachers with your holiday gift/tip. Seriously, I don't think anyone is thinking their gift card or plate of cookies is going to give their child any sort of advantage. It is to thank the teachers/day care staff for taking care of their kid. And if you think a teacher is going to make your kid the star of the play for $50, you might be surprised.

Posted by: Anonymous | December 17, 2007 12:24 PM | Report abuse

some of the best presents i got were cards from parents with a thoughtful note and signed by the student. i saved a bunch of those!

but, i am human, and i won't turn down a gc or present:) this week alone i have spent a significant amount of money to do fun projects with the kids (not holiday related, but, theme related).

i won't begrudge them because they probably won't get experiences like this at home. anything i can do for my babies:)

Posted by: pre-kteacher | December 17, 2007 12:28 PM | Report abuse

"they made my son the star of the play and if that's how it is, that's how it's going to be."

Guess it stinks to be a poor kid. Stuck playing a tree in the school play instead of a main role.
Dry Cleaners, mechanic, yeah I understand getting that "special treatment." But for kids in school. That's just wrong.

Posted by: duck | December 17, 2007 12:28 PM | Report abuse

DCer: I believe a sign of professionalism, is when a teacher/day care worker shows the same amount of time and attention to students who give and do not give gifts. I really think that if your day care staff is bribed by $43/worker ($300 for 7 workers), it just goes to show unprofessional they really are. Not to mention, a holiday gift or tip to a professional educator or child care worker is a token of appreciation. Not a signal to pay special attention to the child.

Posted by: foamgnome | December 17, 2007 12:42 PM | Report abuse

"they made my son the star of the play and if that's how it is, that's how it's going to be."

Way to help your child's self-esteem! Can't wait to hear what junior thinks once he finds out he wasn't really talented or smart after all!

Posted by: Good parent | December 17, 2007 12:43 PM | Report abuse

My father was a high school teacher, and my sisters and I used to LOVE the "junk" gifts that he would bring home - the cologne, the candy, the mugs. Really, I think that it's the thought that counts in the end. But if a class wants to pool funds for a VISA gift card (too bad they didn't exist in the 1970s), I'm sure that would have made it easier for my father to play santa! Now as a parent, I have a generous heart for teachers, but I don't expect everyone to be.

Posted by: Julia | December 17, 2007 12:48 PM | Report abuse

i don't think i have ever seen a teacher do more for a child simply because he/she gave a better/more expensive gift. i'm a little surprised by the post where people gave a week at a beach house -- that seems over the top to me -- but in general, whether you give nothing or $5 or $50, i haven't yet experienced any sort of causality like BIG GIFT = STAR OF PLAY.

and if i were a kid and believed that was happening, i think i might develop a few self-esteem issues... like mom and dad didn't think i could earn it on my own... like i'm not good enough.

Posted by: sher | December 17, 2007 12:50 PM | Report abuse

I never know what to get the teachers. This year, my 2 kids each have 3 main teachers in elementary school, and 3 teachers in after-school. I usually send cookies to the day care. They seem to get very excited about my lemon bars and snickerdoodles. They could just be making me feel better. I don't know....

For school, I the past couple of years I have ordered gifts from the Sally Foster catalogue. Two reasons why I decided to do this: I never know what to order from SF, so I thought this would be a good way to participate in the fundraiser. Also, I'm not sure if this is Mont Cty wide, or just the school, but they don't want homemade gifts (for b-days, parties, etc). SF has some really yummy looking chocolates and cookies.

Next year, though, I think I might switch to gc, although $50, even $25, is too much for me. I think $15-$20 is better.

Posted by: prarie dog | December 17, 2007 1:06 PM | Report abuse

Scrooge here again:

1. Foamgnome - sometimes I do give a card, but usually I just cheerily say Merry Christmas at pick-up.

2. sher - perhaps you have an easy job, however, I dispute the claim that caregivers and teachers work harder than my husband or I do. My husband is in the restaurant industry, and typically works 14 hours a day, on his feet and, despite an almost anti-child attitude that lies beneath the claim that teachers work so hard - grown-up employees can also be whining, demanding, uncooperative and question authority. Yet, my husband is not rid of them at the end of every 9 month period, or get offered new ones every year, the way teachers are. He also can't take away their recess or send them to the principal.

Thus, I am unconvinced that teachers and caregivers (and I worked in a day care center for years) actually work harder than most other people with jobs. I think this is a fantasy, promulgated by teachers, that parents are guilted into believing.

I frankly found day care work to be extremely easy and fun, but then I love children! And I love the way children are so happy and positive! Even when they are bad or disruptive, they would eventually be better or cheer-up or calm down. They are children - you can help them learn to control their behavior! I will agree that day care workers are poorly paid - that's why I'm not one anymore.

HOWEVER, I believe that teachers are actually quite well paid. Even those in Catholic and private schools are only working 9 months of the year (or less when you factor in all paid holidays and Christmas break, etc.); in the public system, they can't be fired, and they get almost automatic cost-of-living increases each year.

People buy into the "teachers work harder than all of us" nonsense b/c teachers have chosen to do a job that many wouldn't like. But I bet those guys risking their lives out on the mixing bowl project are working MUCH, MUCH harder than the Fairfax County Elementary School teacher, and they're working outside, in all types of weather, and they work year-round, and I bet many of them make far less than the average Fx. Cty School teacher.

So, please. If you are going to claim that some one has a hard job, don't repeat the nonsense developed by the Teacher's Union.

Toss a gift out to the construction workers, or the maids in hotels, or the people doing the hard work so we can all sit in comfort and ease, if your baseline for gift giving is to give to people who work harder than you do.

3. DCer - really? You really care about that? I'd rather my children learn some humility and team values - how important everyone's contribution is to a successful event - not simply be the star.

4. I also can't stand the gift card aspect to all of this. I'd rather just give money, if I have to give anything. Read the terms carefully - the gift cards may have time limits, may go down in value, may offer absolutely no cash back even if the recepient only has 3 cents left on it. Why? B/c the business adds up all those millions and millions of 3 cents amounts and makes huge profits. Gift cards seem to be a way to pretend to be thoughtful about the person, but actually play into the snotty above comments about "don't give me a mug." Giving gift cards seems more like a tip to a bellman with his hand out that a thoughtful expression of remembering why we celebrate at this time of year.

Posted by: Scrooge | December 17, 2007 1:10 PM | Report abuse

To Alexandriamom - I also have a child in family child care with Infant Toddler of Northern Virginia. I have never thought to call the office for ideas, but it's a good idea. Our provider is Muslim; I still like to recognize the season with a gift - a more expensive, high quality toy or books - things that I know she could use for the children, because she is in the same boat as any other teacher - spending her own money on things. This year I noticed that a ride-on toy in her back yard was getting pretty shabby - so am replacing it. Will also give a small gift for her family, as they are all wonderful.

Posted by: telecommutingmom | December 17, 2007 1:11 PM | Report abuse

Wow, I had no idea that some of you got such expensive gifts for teachers. Frankly, I don't think my wife and I could afford to do that for so many people. Maybe that's why the group gift thing is better -- you can pool small contributions from lots of people to get something nice.

Posted by: Ryan | December 17, 2007 1:13 PM | Report abuse

Wow- $50??? We don't even spend that much on family members. If I were a teacher I think that might make me a little uncomfortable.

My MIL was a teacher for 20 years, and really wasn't terribly interested in gifts- she just wanted respect from her students and their parents.

I especially remember her trying desperately to get rid of all the homemade goodies she got every year- there were just way too many. And when you're watching your weight and your husband is a diabetic, you really don't want all that stuff in your house.

Posted by: reston, va | December 17, 2007 1:48 PM | Report abuse

My mom was a kindergarten teacher, and she got some really interesting gifts as well as a lot of the cliched ones. But they were all appreciated and considered sweet gestures. Maybe it's because she worked at a lower income public school, but she NEVER expected money or even gifts. Every gift was a pleasant surprise (though plenty got regifted to me and my brother). Some things she got:

- Her jewelry re-set/cleaned by a family of jewlers
- Christmas ornaments (tons)
- Delicious baked goods
- Gift certificates to restaurants
- Thank-you notes from students; framed pictures of students with her (very cute, very appreciated)

Posted by: JEGS | December 17, 2007 1:56 PM | Report abuse

Once again, great topic.

Again, I give MORE to adults than to kids- kids are always taken care of, adults need to be spoiled.

I think 5-20 range is reasonable for a teacher gift and while I understand teachers might appreciate extra for the supplies they buy or need for the class, it just doesn't feel right for a true gift.

Once you're into the multiple teacher stage, I'd say a card for each teacher/advisor and perhaps a gift for the special ones you really appreciate would make sense.

I advise against baked stuff- just cuz so many people are diabetic these days and trying to eat better. I know my mom has had to give away a few lovely treat baskets because it's just all carbs. I know it's cheap, home made and sweet, but if you can offer an alternative, do.

Posted by: Liz D | December 17, 2007 2:16 PM | Report abuse

Our school does the group gift thing--schoolwide, not just for each classroom. So donations are divided up and each teacher/support staff member (secretaries, janitors, lunch lady) get a basket with an ornament, all of the cards and drawings their students made for them, and cash--which many of them use to travel home to see their families. It is voluntary--teachers know who contributed, but not how much. Individual gifts are also welcomed. But it is easier to just write one check.

Posted by: mmartin | December 17, 2007 2:32 PM | Report abuse

"I advise against baked stuff- just cuz so many people are diabetic these days and trying to eat better"

I am not a teacher, but I am also not a baker and I would LOVE to receive gifts of baked goodies.

Scrooge, you are not alone in your thoughts. I argue with my sister about how I believe that teachers have it better than they lead others to believe. Having the summers off is a huge perk, especially if you have children who would have to be in camps otherwise. She likes to point out that the teachers don't get paid during the summer and I just let her know that I would be willing to not be paid for the summer if I was off, but I am not allowed to miss the entire summer from my job.

I'm not saying that teaching is an easy job, and I don't have the temperament for it myself. However, for those who are interested in teaching, there are many perks that non-teachers don't have.

I also believe that the gift giving has gotten out of hand. We should all give what we can, to whomever we want, from our hearts and not out of a sense of obligation.

Posted by: lurker | December 17, 2007 2:59 PM | Report abuse

Geez DCer, I hope you don't plan on bribing the public school teachers with your holiday gift/tip. Seriously, I don't think anyone is thinking their gift card or plate of cookies is going to give their child any sort of advantage. It is to thank the teachers/day care staff for taking care of their kid. And if you think a teacher is going to make your kid the star of the play for $50, you might be surprised.


Then I guess they treat us special because we're genuinely warm and wonderful people!

No, I'm not an idiot, my kid was the star of the play because he's good, yes, but mostly because the parents of the kid who probably deserved it are demanding snots that no teacher is going to favor. When the teachers feel free to make cracks about other parents... sheesh... but it ain't good.

So when we're the parents who support the teacher more, our kids get more stuff. Anyone who thinks the teachers turn a blind eye to parental behavior, or don't gossip, or treat all the kids with no favorites must never have been the kid in a class that the teacher didn't like. I was in the fifth grade, I knew it, and my parents made sure in the 6th grade that it never happened again.

Posted by: Anonymous | December 17, 2007 3:36 PM | Report abuse

DCer - really? You really care about that? I'd rather my children learn some humility and team values - how important everyone's contribution is to a successful event - not simply be the star.

I will happily pay your kid to clean our house, bring them over! I have shoes that need to be shined! Chop chop!

Your kid will learn humility that will serve the later in life Scrooge.

My parents felt I needed to find my own job, so I worked at a store and went to a state school. My best friend's parents got him an internship at NASA Goddard and he went to Dartmouth.

I think I would have preferred the internship at NASA. you?

Posted by: DCer | December 17, 2007 3:40 PM | Report abuse

DCer: I believe a sign of professionalism, is when a teacher/day care worker shows the same amount of time and attention to students who give and do not give gifts. I really think that if your day care staff is bribed by $43/worker ($300 for 7 workers), it just goes to show unprofessional they really are. Not to mention, a holiday gift or tip to a professional educator or child care worker is a token of appreciation. Not a signal to pay special attention to the child.


You are confusing public and private education. Public school teachers are supposed to be fair, no one has ever expected the same of private school teachers, nor does it work that way- as it doesn't work that way in any industry.

Daycare employees at our church make about $20k per year and that means foodstamps. The public school teacher's aides are clocking in at $18k and you can look that up online.

Do you get a bonus at your job? I sure do.

Keep grasping at straws before you admit you don't know what you're talking about.

Posted by: DCer | December 17, 2007 3:45 PM | Report abuse

DCer-You obviously assume that anyone who doesn't make a lot of money, doesn't have ethical standards and doesn't work to the best of their ability regardless of extra tips. How sad.

And no not everyone does get a bonus at their job regardless of the professional standards.

Posted by: Anonymous | December 17, 2007 4:01 PM | Report abuse

Except by your own admission DCer, you didn't really develop discipline on your own which would have opened doors for you.

There's no denying that parents and background can have a huge help or hindrance on things available to kids growing up, but that hardly means the doors to Goddard or Dartmouth were closed.

Posted by: Liz D | December 17, 2007 4:26 PM | Report abuse

"There's no denying that parents and background can have a huge help or hindrance on things available to kids growing up, but that hardly means the doors to Goddard or Dartmouth were closed."

I agree that the doors are open ... to the service entrance 'round the back!

Posted by: To Liz D | December 17, 2007 9:28 PM | Report abuse

As a college professor, I have to say that I find this discussion a little bizarre, because people (quite rightly, I think!) don't give their professors gifts.

As a result, it took me by surprise when my kids started elementary school and people were talking about giving gifts to teachers.

So now I'm torn. I don't like the idea of giving gifts to someone who evaluates me or my family--there's a bit of a possible appearance of impropriety (read: bribery) there, you know? However, I also know how little K-12 teachers make.

For now, I'm banding together with some other parents to give semi-anonymous gift cards--our kids' teachers will know it comes from parents of children in their classes, but not which parents they come from. I'm still not happy with it, though.

Posted by: David | December 17, 2007 10:51 PM | Report abuse

"Do you get a bonus at your job? I sure do."

I don't, and I never have. I have always worked for government agencies (universities, school systems), and bonuses are not given in these systems.

Anyway, doesn't the bonus come from the company and not directly from the clients? Are you encouraged to accept money directly from your clients? What purpose would be accomplished by doing so?

I think in the end, though, we will have to agree to disagree. I don't think that money alone makes the world go around. I do not endlessly strive for more money, or feel that I don't have enough. I only have to think about the greater percentage of the world's population to realize that I am enormously rich by their standards.

I don't feel the need to buy my way to special treatment for my children or myself. I can't imagine being "legendary" for bribery. In fact, your attitude is denigrating to teachers, because you assume a lower level of ethics and professionalism than the vast majority of teachers have. If the teachers you encounter are so poorly paid that they must resort to encouraging bribery in order to pay the bills, I wonder if you couldn't find a way to advocate for a pay increase for these teachers.

You alone state the viewpoint that you espoused in this blog--no one has backed you up. Many people have posted in opposition to your viewpoint, yet you wrote "Keep grasping at straws before you admit you don't know what you're talking about."

DCer, you aren't in touch with reality. Money has taken over your life. It's time to get help now.

Posted by: to DCer | December 17, 2007 11:31 PM | Report abuse

My mother is a band teacher currently at three schools, but in the past up to five schools. She always gets gifts from some kids, and though nice, the best ones are the gift cards. Usually $5 it's a nice thought and something she can use. The worst gifts are those stupid, useless things like mugs, notepads, and hideous jewelry.

To the person who suggested giving to the library for "specialty teachers," that is incredibly wrong. Most specialty teachers face a large struggle in their (public) school system just to keep funding and their job. Perhaps a donation to the county music fund for a music teacher, or maybe buy a music stand. Or tell the teacher, I'd like to do something for you and the school, what can I get? Many music, art, gym, and other teachers all have many requests for equipment they are not provided but still need everyday. Make a difference in your child's school, so not just your child gets a good education.

Posted by: Anonymous | December 18, 2007 8:27 AM | Report abuse

I find this appalling. I don't have kids in public school yet, so can't comment - but with regards to daycare, these are the people caring for your children! They do an incredibly important job! If you appreciate what they do, then you should compensate them however you feel appropriate. I will say, however, that it's not always one-upsmanship. My husband and I feel that day care providers are grossly undercompensated for our market (northeast) and so at the holidays, we give them each cash to hopefully cushion the blow. We aren't trying to show anyone else up and would certainly do it anonymously if that made sense, but we just want to find a way to give people who provide us the most important service we buy, extra.

Posted by: MyGawd | December 18, 2007 9:47 AM | Report abuse

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