Holiday Teacher Gifts: Pros and Cons

Holiday Teacher Gifts: Pros and Cons

Mugs with “World’s Greatest Teacher” on them, note paper, bath sets, gift certificates….This is the time of year many families give holiday gifts to teachers. In some places, this is an unquestioned practice, but perhaps we should look more closely at this tradition.
PROS: Teachers are under-appreciated and it is lovely to see and feel a family’s appreciation for your hard work. For many families, gift giving is a powerful way for them to express their thanks and to recognize how important you are to them. It is a festive time of year and gift-giving creates a climate of good-will. I still have gifts from students I taught 20 years ago that remind me of the children and make me smile.
CONS: The most obvious problem is that not all families can afford to give gifts. This may result in embarrassment in not being able to participate in this ritual. Imagine the child who silently watches other children carry brightly colored wrapped gifts to the teacher, knowing she won’t be able to bring one herself. Or the family might go ahead and spend money that they can’t afford in order to avoid this embarrassment. When a family has multiple children (and sometimes multiple teachers) this can become a great burden.
This gift-giving tradition can also be awkward for the families who have religious or cultural beliefs that don’t include gift-giving this time of year. Families who have recently immigrated to the United States may be confused by the process. As our country becomes more multicultural it is important to realize we won’t all share the same expectations. How do we let families know what is acceptable?
Finally, there is also the problem of what is an appropriate gift. How much money should one spend? In more affluent areas, gift giving can become competitive. How personal should the gift be? Is food acceptable as a gift? Money? Is accepting an expensive gift a conflict of interest?
School Policies. In the best case scenario, the school will develop a thoughtful policy to help guide families and teachers. In one school where my children attended, for example, no teacher gifts were allowed; however families could give a gift of a book to the school which was engraved with the child’s name and year. Here’s another example from a school in Massachusetts. If gifts are encouraged or accepted, it would be helpful to have guidelines on their value. Perhaps the process for delivering gifts could be thought through and planned to avoid competition and embarrassment. A school-wide committee of parents and teachers could discuss the pros and cons and come up with suggestions.
As I hope I’ve made clear, this is a tricky, complicated subject –and I don’t have the answers since it depends so much on the context of your community and classroom. The December holidays are a wonderful opportunity for joyful celebration. Let’s think hard about what role gift-giving should play in our public schools.
Please share in the comments what the gift-giving policy is at your school (if you have one) or what suggestions you might have!

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