As the holiday season approaches, parents and students will be looking for ways to show their appreciation to teachers and other school personnel with a gift or some token. This season gives us the perfect opportunity to say thanks in a variety of ways, as does the end of the school year. Whether you choose to give a gift or you choose to simply express your appreciation with a note, I offer a few answers to commonly asked questions:
Do I have to give gifts? Do teachers expect that every child will give them something? No. Teachers have no expectations for gifts or any form of acknowledgement. Giving gifts or tokens are completely up to the person giving them (see last section of article). However, I recommend that you find some way to show your appreciation to the people with whom your child spends more than 70 percent of their waking hours. Receiving appreciation is not expected, but it is valued and has a positive impact. While teaching is a profession, this type of work has a large emotional component and success occurs when strong relationships are created. Remember that the math teacher is not really teaching math, she is teaching your child the content of math, and in order to do so, has to find ways to reach your individual child by relating to and getting to know them.
How much should I spend?This question is very difficult to answer with a specific dollar amount. The answer is spend as much as you are comfortable spending. For some, that might be $5 per gift and for others, it could be $50. As you are computing your budget, be sure to look at it from a total cost perspective and consider every person you will be giving a gift to ensure that you are comfortable with the amount. A gift is a form of appreciation, not a statement on popularity or how much you like a certain person. It also should not be used as a way to entice a teacher to do something that you want — that becomes very obvious and can make teachers uncomfortable. Choose a reasonable amount to give so that it is received in the way that you intended.
Who should I buy gifts for? Some children have a single teacher for most of the day and a few other teachers who may interact with them a few times a week during a specials class. Other children have multiple teachers in a given day. Add coaches, teaching assistants, the administration, office staff and security guards and the list can feel endless. Parents can choose to give to as many or as few people as you would like. As a general rule, you can consider who spends a good deal of time with your child and who has impact on their and your day-to-day experiences. Don’t forget to consider the school secretaries, lunch aides and bus drivers! You can also ask your child what they, if they’re old enough. If your child is in a classroom with one teacher and a few assistants, it is a good idea to gift all of them. It is not necessary that you spend the exact same amount for each person, however, it’s best to stay close or the same for people who work together as a team. While no one really compares notes, it is possible that people may see what others receive. Be sure to check the school website or ask the office for a list of staff members so that you do not inadvertently forget anyone that you want to thank. This is the type of mistake you will never know you have made because no one will tell you!
What should I buy? Again, there are endless possibilities that will vary with how well you know the people you are giving to. If you know that a teacher likes a particular author and you want to buy them the author’s latest book, that might be very well-received. In general, it’s best to stay away from items that are too personal, are heavily scented, are kind of random (I once received a shower cap as a gift!) or mugs of any kind. I don’t recommend lotions or candles — I still have boxes of these types of items from 15 years ago. While it’s the thought that counts, you also want to give people something that they can use. Consider that each teacher is getting gifts year after year from multiple students, a person can only use so many mugs and shower gels! If you choose to buy an item, be sure to include a gift receipt. It may be the perfect gift, but if a teacher receives multiples of the same item or it is so perfect that they already have it, it would be nice to be able to exchange a few for something else. I personally like to give something that allows teachers to exercise a bit of choice, allowing them to decide what they would like to buy and if they want to buy something for themselves or for the classroom. Gift cards are wonderful options and allow you to gift at various denominations. Starbucks, Target, and Amazon gift cards give the recipient a lot of flexibility and are easy to redeem.
Gift cards for grocery stores like Meijer, Kroger and Trader Joes are also great as long as there is one accessible to the teacher. I generally look for stores within a few mile radius of the school so that I know it is easy to get there. It is fine to give someone a gift certificate to a specialty store, as long as you know that the person shops there or can easily get there. Gift cards for movie tickets or restaurants can also be great if you know that teachers like these places. When buying gift cards, be sure that the amount you give allows someone to have a ‘complete’ experience without being compelled to spend any additional money. For example, a $5 gift card to Starbucks or Target is enough to purchase something but $5 at Nordstrom or Andiamo is not going to go too far and will most likely require a teacher to spend their own money. If a gift card seems too impersonal or transactional, you can always include it in a nice card or as part of gift set with a few other items. I’ve given gift cards with small photo frames of the teacher with students.
You can also get creative and give a gift from the heart that you make at home. Just be careful with homemade edible gifts, allergies are prevalent and you may not know what restrictions members of a teacher’s family have at home. The gift of your time to help in the classroom is always welcomed. I once had a parent gift me his skills re-hanging coat racks that were loose and had fallen off the wall, which was invaluable to me. I have seen room parents or the PTA ask for wish lists from the teacher, and distribute those lists to the parents in the class. Some schools shy away from this type of activity because they do not want to make it seem like teachers expect gifts or that every family is expected to give a gift. Finally, some parents have chosen to send a gift basket of treats or lunch for the whole staff as their form of appreciation. If you decide to go that route, be sure to talk with the school administrators to get their feedback and choose a date (which may not be at the holidays) that works best for the school.
I have two children at the same school. Do I need to give each person two gifts? Again, this choice is up to you. I would recommend that each child show her appreciation to each teacher individually with a nice note or card and that you determine on whose behalf you want to give to each person that you’re choosing to give a gift. For example, you may choose to give each child’s homeroom teacher an individual gift, but recognize the gym teacher that teaches both with one gift from the family. The only way that could be misinterpreted is to gift someone who both children have an equal relationship with from just one child and not the other. In this case, I would suggest giving this person something from both or from the whole family. Again, being thoughtful in how you’re choosing who to give gifts to will help guide how you want to recognize each person. I have seen some families who are not related get together to give some people group gifts from all of them as a means of being more resourceful with their budget.
Try to wrap or put gifts in gift bags to allow for discretion. Students do not need the pressure of comparing their gifts to those their friends may be giving and teachers appreciate having the ability to carry out their gifts in a more private manner. Also, if possible, try to give out gifts before the last day of school before vacation so that teachers can spread out carrying home their haul.
Even if you do not choose to give a gift, be sure to write a thoughtful note. While receiving gifts is exciting and appreciated, the notes that come with them that are the real present. Kind, thoughtful, personalized words are the most important form of appreciation you can offer a teacher or school employee. It costs nothing in terms of money and can allow you and your child to express to all recipients how much impact they have on your lives. Every teacher will tell you that we save these for years and refer back to them from time to time when we need a little pick-me-up. These notes actually made me a better teacher and administrator because many times, parents and students have pointed out things that were so meaningful to them that I had no idea were ever noticed. For parents, it can also be a very fulfilling experience to write these notes and reflect on how much your child has received from these important people. They are important partners as we raise our children and recognizing their contributions is good for all of us. It helps us keep the feelings of appreciation alive beyond the holiday season.
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