Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Answers: Holiday Gifts for Teachers

Here are the questions, and the answers, that I got to my survey about holiday gifts for teachers. It is also applicable to year-end gifts. Read the full report here.

Did you know that Ann Arbor has guidelines for holiday gifts? So does Plymouth-Canton, apparently, so you might want to check with your school district to see what their guidelines are.

(The guidelines, by the way, address much more than just holiday gifts.)

As far as holiday gifts go though, the most important line is this: 
  • Employee Handbook – As employees of the district, individuals shall not accept gifts of more than token value from students or their parents or guardians or from vendors or businesses.  (Exception:  gifts to a retiring or reassigned employee.)

Below, I've got some choice quotes. The "Other Comments" all addressed the fact that in the situation I described families were asked to give around $20, which "seems excessive," in the words of one commenter.

Parents: What Do You Usually Do For Teacher Gifts? 

Key ideas: group gifts (but maybe $2-$5 per family); homemade items and food; donations to an educational foundation; gifts for the classroom (for instance, books for the class library) personal notes.

We have always made donations to the Ann Arbor Public Schools Educational Foundation to thank teachers at the end of the school year, but not in December. And we participate in the PTO sponsored activities to thank teachers/staff in May.
When our children were younger, I appreciated when parents organized and we would contribute to that, but not $30 per family! It was maybe $5 per family, or whatever you could afford. Even if you only get half of the parents participating, I know my own teacher-spouse would feel VERY uncomfortable having families who may be struggling feel pressured to contribute that amount, or feel badly for not being able to contribute so much… If a parent has the income to be so generous that great, but not appropriate to ask others. There are families at every one of AAs schools who struggle financially. 
Once a kid knitted a scarf himself for a favorite teacher; twice kids have made pens or spoons on their lathe for teachers. Often the kids choose and help make the baked goods.

Parents: What Guides Your Decision Making on Teacher Gifts?

Key ideas: make it meaningful and show you appreciate their time over the year; personalize; large group gifts are ok if they don't require to spend a lot of money; no bath salts, coffee mugs, or tchotchkes (teachers get too many).

And a question: What about high school teachers?

Time, we have limited time so we can't bake anything. Money, we have limited money (spouse is teacher!). Our children's teachers are some of the people we value most in this community. And knowing how beat up teachers are feeling these days, we find it particularly important to let them know how much we appreciate them.
I recently realized that we haven't done anything for the high school teachers, in large part because we parents hardly know them (little interaction except for capsule night) and because our high schooler doesn't necessarily enjoy school. This oversight (?) makes me somewhat sad - I suspect they would appreciate it, but don't know what to do.
Teachers are busy, busy people, so I try to think of something related to the gift of time. That's why I like the bread idea. Who has time to bake bread?
Teachers deserve our thanks and appreciation. I think it's important to express that and to have our children express that too. But I think it is more meaningful for a child to write a note, or for a parent to send an email that lays out what a wonderful job someone does, and cc: their principal. I also like donating something to the classroom that is aligned with the teachers goals; rather than personal gifts. 
I think it's very important to recognize all that they do year round -- but the holidays offer a great pause to take stock and give thanks where due given these often tense and embattled times when teachers and schools are so under siege in Michigan. I also have my child make cards for her teachers and write personal notes to them. Sometimes give a small homemade gift with the gift certificate and card. Try to make it personal & hopefully useful/meaningful and keep clutter to a minimum.
I talk with my kids about what might be a good gift for their different teachers, and then try to follow through on our ideas.

Teachers/Administrators: What Kind of Gifts Do You Usually Get?

As I high school teacher, I usually get very few gifts. While gifts can be nice, what I love more than any gift card, plate of cookies, or prepackaged holiday present are sincere notes from students or parents. A real note that does more than just sign a name, but actually engages on a personal level, trumps any actual object. Plus it's pretty much free and and doesn't take much time to do!

I'm fortunate in that gifts I've received from parents/students have always been pretty thoughtful and personal. Anything from homemade treats or crafts to my favorite snacks to wool socks. Lately, I've had parents pool their money together and buy items for the classroom and a gift certificate to Nicola's to keep our classroom library well-stocked.

Teachers/Administrators: What Are Your Favorite/Least Favorite Gifts? How Do You Think About These Things?

Key idea: personalize. 
I also note, especially, this first comment: 
I find it really difficult when a family chooses to give a gift to one person and not to another with whom they work (e.g. the teacher but not the aide, or the secretary but not the clerk). I've had my feelings really hurt at these moments in some years.
While the best things are always gifts for the classroom that we can all use, my favorite personal things are always the thoughtful, homemade things. A ceramic vase a parent made for me, a crafty tile/dry erase message board, a heartfelt letter from a student.
[Spouse of a teacher]: It's nice to be recognized but more than anything sincere words of appreciation from students and parents are the gifts my spouse loves the most. Home made cards, or cards with nice words are the best. Home made food/treats is the second best. Gift cards to Zingerman's and books stores always appreciated by my spouse. (who is not a coffee drinker)
My favorite things are personal messages from families and especially from kids. I'd rather have a heartfelt greeting than just the name on a preprinted card, and the gift matters pretty much not at all (although, honestly, I love me some good holiday sweets!!)

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1 comment:

  1. As a middle school teacher, I don't take the absence of a gift or card personally. I certainly don't expect something from each of my 110 students! But over the years, I received much, all of which I appreciate. It's so hard to generalize what is most appreciated - anything from the heart, really. What I don't like is when a parent or kid is discouraged from giving a gift which s/he would really like to give. (Some people take the "token" label very literally - I've actually had people say to me "I wanted to give you a $25 gift card from the bookstore, but I was told that's more than "token.") Having said that, one of my favorite gifts is a xeroxed Far Side cartoon about the first microscope - I've had it up in my room for 2 years now! I also appreciate gifts of consumables like chocolate or coffee! And I keep every card of thanks from students and parents I've ever received!