Note: I have posted this for a year or two in various forms. I worry about it a bit because I don't want to seem self serving. But, I usually get a lot of good feedback, so I will post it for whatever it is worth.
What a wonderful time of year! A big part of this season, of course, is the giving of gifts. And, with that comes wondering and worrying about what to give to various people in your life. Your husband, wife, boss, neighbors, and your child's teacher.
I can't help you with the others, but I can give you some tips on what to give your child's teacher. I have some expertise in this since I am a teacher, so I have my own experience as well as hearing the reactions of all my colleagues over the years. So, based on that, let me give you some thoughts.
You are certainly not obligated to give a gift. If you want to--I think that's great. If you don't want to, can't, whatever, that's fine, too.
Personally, I always make sure we give our children's teachers something. It's always very modest, but I think it's important.
Here's why: I can't overstate how demanding and exhausting teaching is. Wonderful and rewarding, yes--but also exhausting. It's very much like being a parent--a constant flow of giving, giving, giving. You give emotionally and mentally and you risk emptying the well sometimes.
Having someone give back using the same currency (eg emotional and mental) really helps fill the well back up.
DO NOT feel obligated to spend a lot of money, especially in this economy. In fact, you can spend no money and give an incredibly memorable gift (see below).
DO acknowledge the fact that your child's teacher does a great deal. Yes, he or she is paid. However, a good teacher is simply not compensated anywhere near the amount of time he or she invests and is not paid for any of the emotional energy given.
One of the most valued gifts I know of is a sincere note written by a child that is detailed and specific in expressing gratitude. These are treasured. I'm serious. It's also wonderful to get these from parents. Most teachers teach to make a difference and most worry, I think, that they aren't doing enough, or well enough or could do more or need to do better. Knowing you are achieving that objective is powerful medicine. If your child is problematic in class, I would especially encourage you to do something. I have a folder in which I keep these sort of notes and in a fire, it's one of the first things I would grab.
If your child has multiple teachers, DO NOT give a gift to one teacher and not another. Someone does this every year and it can really hurt people's feelings. Remember that teachers are human with feelings. If you must do this, and I can see why there would be occasions to do it, at least give the gift discretely so no one else will see.
DO think of those who will be left out. Every school has a few popular teachers that everyone loves. They get tons of stuff. But the less popular teachers work hard, too. It's not their fault they are not as charismatic, etc. Be thoughtful. You might also consider the custodial staff, etc. A plate of cookies for them would be very thoughtful. I realize you can't necessarily get something for everyone--but just There is a parent at our school who remembers the lunch laides and custodians every year. Every year. I think that shows a lot about her.
DO NOT feel pressure to be creative or clever. If you don't want to follow my advice and do a nice note then it truly is the thought that counts for most teachers. A list of my favorite gifts over the years would reveal no pattern beyond thoughtfulness.
If you are super busy and want a quick idea, go for a gift card. Teachers don't often have vast amounts of of disposable income and having a gift card to Target or Wal-Mart or a restaurant, even in a modest amount, makes me feel rich and give me a chance to buy something fun for myself or my wife without having to worry about budgetary impact.
If you want to do something more personal, then you have a little more work to do. Finding out their favorite restaurant, spa, etc. is also a good idea. One year, one student got some movie passes for us since there was a movie they knew we wanted to watch and knew it would be expensive for our big family. The kindness and thoughtfulness in that gesutre still warm my heart beyond the value of the gift. Another family gave me some really amazing, high-end toffee and candy one year and some homemade treats the next year. Some families have special recipes for hot cocoa or cookie mixes--the list goes on and on, but all of this warms my heart to equal degrees because I know they spend time and effort--which is what I've tried to do for their children.
Another idea is a Christmas tree ornament. Over the years I have received several of these. I always write the student's name and year on it, and each year, as we decorate our tree, I have warm and happy memories of that family.
You might also consider group gifts. One year, the parents in my son's class all contributed a few dollars and got her a gift card to the mall. Then, everyone had their child draw a picture and write what they loved about the teacher. We laminated these and made them into a book. I know she really loved that gift.
I'm telling you, you do not have to spend lots of money. It truly is the thought that counts. If your child attends a public school, there might be instructional or classroom supplies your teacher would love that are not in his or her budget. Talking to the room parents or the teacher is a good idea there.
One last idea:
May I suggest that, along with the gift, you tell them explicitly that you do not want them to write you a thank you note? This is one of the most thoughtful things I've experienced from parents. I am, of course, happy to write thank you notes, but when someone tells me not to worry about it, it is a true gift, saving time and some money. I know a lot of teachers who spend a fair amount of time over the break writing thank you notes and then spend a bit of money mailing the notes (one doesn't always want to trust the child to deliver it).
Two years ago, I did this with my own children's teachers and some of them literally burst into tears out of gratitude. So, I feel like I'm really on to something here. Some may write a note anyway and feel that this is important modelling for the student to see. I do understand that point of view. My own thought, for what it's worth, is that things revolve around the student all year long. The point of giving a gift is to say thank you to the teacher--not to teach the student something else.
But, this is just a thought.
Note: All of my current students and parents who I know read this blog do a great job at this! I wouldn't have posted this otherwise.
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