Gift-Giving To Teachers: Where Do You Draw The Line?

Last year, my sister-in-law and I were talking about all the odds-and-ends we still needed to get, even after our holiday shopping seemed complete. We were making a last-minute trip to pick up stocking stuffers and gifts for co-workers. As she was checking off her list, she mentioned a gift that made me do a double-take. She was still looking for a gift for her son’s bus driver.

“Wait… you get a gift for the bus driver? Seriously?” I was honestly shocked.

“She gets my son to and from school every day safely. That’s worth a $20 gift card to me.” She replied. And when you put it like it, it made plenty of sense to me.

Last year, my daughter still hadn’t started school. The only gift I needed to by on her behalf was to my daycare provider, who I have an extremely close relationship with. Honestly, long after my daughter attends that daycare, I’ll be buying Annie a gift, because she’s become a part of our family. But buying her a gift feels very different from buying a holiday present for the school music teacher. I don’t really know all these people, but my daughter does. Should their interaction with her automatically necessitate a little something once a year? It doesn’t seem like too much to ask.

When I was a kid, I remember walking in to school one in day in December with my book bag so stuffed I could barely carry it. Sometimes, I had to bring a separate grocery sack just to fit all my teachers’ gifts in. It wasn’t just my own classroom teacher. My mother got a gift for the principal, secretary, drama teacher, P.E. instructor and janitor. Every adult that I saw on a weekly basis got a small gift. And I know that I wasn’t the only child with that load of presents to carry. [tagbox tag="teachers"]

Now that I’m an adult, I find myself inclined to fall into the same pattern. I’m not sure if I’m just following my mother’s lead, succumbing to social pressure or just really generous. (It’s probably not generosity if I’m debating it this much.) Honestly, I appreciate that my daughter has a wonderful group of people who help her learn and grow every day. I don’t mind spending money to say thank you for all their hard work. But holiday gifts seem like such a personal gesture.

In Alabama, gifts to teachers were recently ruled illegal. That’s right, accepting a $20 gift card to Starbucks to land your child’s teacher in jail. I definitely think that this is going a little too far. But where should parents draw the line when it comes to gift-giving at school. How much do you give out, whether it’s due to a generous nature or social pressure?

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  • NotThumper

    I can understand Alabama’s ruling (though I think jail is a bit extreme). While gift giving may be a case of generosity it can be viewed as bribery. Perhaps that is more of a comment on society’s cynicism that genuine generosity isn’t the first thought but…there it is.

  • Cee

    Agreed with NotThumper, people would not recognize generosity when its right in front of them.
    I don’t know about giving gifts to ALL staff. Bus driver, teacher and TA..yes. But secretary and They rarely have true interaction with your child, while the other three know children’s names, know things about them. “She likes to sit by the window toward the back of the bus” “She likes to read Junie B. Jones books.”
    Aside from that, you don’t need to give so much. As a teacher, I have always liked something for the classroom more than anything. Seasonal ornaments are cool because the child sees me use it during THAT holiday and I can also continue to use it for holidays to come..which I usually do. Or antibacterial handsoap! Oooh man, I can never get enough of that! Its like 49 cents at Target.

  • Kate

    I am a teacher, and this year my son is in a school setting for the first time (he is 2 and in Montessori school). He has a primary teacher and about 8 people that he sees on a daily basis.

    We are bringing a gift for his teacher and getting breakfast for the entire staff. This way, everyone can get a treat on our behalf.

    I teach junior high, and I teach a “special area”- foreign language. We often don’t receive gifts, but I always am very appreciative of a card from a student or some home made treats. I would never expect anything from students though! That said, gift card= perfection. Even $5 will let me spring for a latte as a treat! And no heavy bag to carry!

  • Jules

    I think it’s an opportunity to show appreciation for the people who are looking after your child. Honestly, if you’ve never thought of giving a bus driver a gift, your probably not showing them a lot of appreciation regularly. Teachers work hard, there are also class parties, teacher appreciation day, etc where you can show your appreciation for them but the bus driver, the lunch lady, the playground supervisors generally don’t get the appreciation they deserve for oft thankless jobs. The gift card/ cookies are nice, but really it’s the acknowledgment that you know how hard they work that will mean a lot to them.

  • Jen

    I think the line for gifts should be drawn at the people who actually interact with your child on the regular. If that means the bus driver, teacher, and aides that’s what it means. I do think including janitorial staff is important, they seldom get any recognition and they are incredibly important, it doesn’t necessarily have to be something big, even just springing for coffee and bagels one morning could be great.

    I also think PTAs are underutilized at this time of year. At least from what I saw attending and then working at a private school many parents took the holidays as a time to compete for best gift, which often made those families who couldn’t afford to do much look stingy (imagine being the kid who has to hand her teacher a five dollar gift card to Starbucks right after the teacher’s received a Vineyard Vines tote stuffed with presents). Though there was no way to prevent parents from doing this the PTA did step in and collect money from willing parents that they then distributed as “holiday bonuses” (instead of parents giving individual gifts) to the teachers, administration and support staff. It is a much nicer way to make everyone feel included and I know as a faculty member I appreciated the extra $$ around holiday time.

  • bbqcornnuts

    I am getting a note almost everyday from someone collecting for an assistant, a helper, a driver or something. My son is in kindergarten so this is the first time I’ve run into this. It’s getting overwhelming fast.

  • Eileen

    We always gave gifts to the bus driver and my own teachers (we didn’t have classroom aides then, but we did switch for math and reading). The gift was usually a sampler of the Christmas cookies we’d made, with some cute chocolate nutcrackers interspersed. I gave the same thing senior year to the two teachers who wrote me college recommendations (I was accepted early, so I was super-excited that December), and everyone always seemed to like it.

  • Erin

    We always gave homemade gifts, most of which we helped make. Namely a small bag of peanut brittle, and an angel ornament my grandmother had crocheted. As we got older we included a ream of paper for each teacher. As a teacher, I always appreciated anything my students gave this time of year. Some of my lower income students would give me a card and a candy cane or just a handwritten note. Those meant just as much to me as the bookstore and restaurant gift cards I would occasionally receive from a higher income student. I’m currently 8 months pregnant with my first and I plan to teach my kids to make peanut brittle from the family recipe and give that to the important adults in their lives. I think the kid should be involved with the gift some how, not just the distribution.

  • Cony

    Now I feel guilty for not getting something for my daughter’s teacher. I’m not her biggest fan either but I do think it would be polite to get her something.

  • RighttoWorkMom

    I’m good friends with one of the teachers at my daughter’s preschool. It’s amazing what she had to say about what she received and what she actually wanted/needed.

    For example, she received quite a few cash gifts (and gift cards), but one mother handed her a Walmart return receipt that had $10 store credit on it – and then told her to share the receipt with the other teacher in their classroom as well. Really, not every parent gives a gift. Not every parent gives a monetary gift. All of this is normal, but the teachers all agreed they’d never received anything like that receipt before. I’ve certainly been in tough spots financially and had to give similar gifts in terms of value, but store credit from returning something and on a receipt that had to be shared, well, if it’s the thought that counts, I don’t think this one goes far.

    She also said that an awe-inspiring number of parents gave her pictures of their children along with pictures their children drew. It’s nice in theory, but she teaches those kids. She takes pictures of them (we had to sign a permission slip) all year, so she has pictures already. She is with them for a big part of the day, five days per week. They’ve drawn her pictures before. I felt bad on this one because I knew of at least one mom who had a special picture taken for this gift, and I know I gave a custodian a picture of my daughter after the custodian gave us ribbons to put in my daughter’s hair.

    In the end my friend said she appreciated everything she received, but she most appreciated the gifts that demonstrated thought (one mom gave her a $5 Starbucks gift card along with delivering her favorite drink at the start of the school day).

  • Carrie Blackmar

    I always send my girls’ teachers a gift…as a teacher, a handmade card from my student makes me smile. Last year, our school sent home a letter from the faculty suggesting that instead of presents, the parents send in consumables for the classroom (wipes, markers, pencils, stickers, etc). With budget cuts, these things get expensive for teachers to buy on their own. I still got a “teacher mug”, but I also received LOTS of supplies that lasted us into the spring.

  • Mel

    I teach at the secondary level, and I do not accept gifts beyond holiday cards or Senior photos from students that I taught throughout their high school years. I also make sure my students know that beforehand to prevent unnecessary spending on my behalf. While I appreciate the thought, not every student brings their teachers gifts, and some may perceive this to be a form of “ass kissing” or bribery. The last thing I need is for a student to go home, complain to their parents that so-and-so is bringing in gifts and Mrs. S is happily accepting. The next thing you know, mom and dad are phoning in, and you’re in a meeting with your superior. Sure, it’s a stretch, but this exact thing happened to a friend of mine at another school district. I simply do not want to take any risks.

  • amanda

    I always give gifts to the teachers, teacher aids, and those who have contact with my child on a daily basis. The principle and vice principle are there every morning greeting the students and talking to parents. These are the people who will influence my child the most. My husband being PTA president, I can say that we do things for the teachers, but as my son and I, we do a little extra for those who are his favorite, even still for last years teachers.

    The season is about giving, and appreciating those who inspire your child, who take care of your child, who pass knowledge to your child, that will make a lasting impression for years to come.

    Those who look at gift giving as a bribe, or something other than the true intent need to look at the True meaning of Christmas.

    • Mel

      “Those who look at gift giving as a bribe, or something other than the true intent need to look at the True meaning of Christmas.”

      Well, I agree, but we’re talking about perception here and not every parent/student looks at the “true meaning of Christmas.” When a parent calls the school district and accuses a teacher of “playing favorites” because she accepted a high-end gift from a student, one tends to steer clear of the entire situation. My friend nearly lost her job because of that, and the school now has a limit on the amount of money that can be spent for teacher gifts. As I said before, I do appreciate the thought, but in the end I’m not willing to put my job at risk. If that makes me a “Scrooge” simply because I prefer to protect what puts food on my family’s table, so be it.

  • vera anselmo

    As a Piano teacher, and a mother of a 4 yo, I always help my daughter make cards of appreciation to every teacher/aid at her school.
    we live in Manhattan, Ny, and so PTA collects $50 from all parents to give gifts to all teachers, aid; and they give you a breakdown of who is getting how much.

    as a Piano teacher I do not always get a card from my students which I think is wrong, and it does hurt a bit as I put a lot of energy and dedication working with the kids once a week one on one.

    I am surprised that some Parents don;t think they should at least bring a Christmas Card that they help their child make at home,- this would be honestly enough and much appreciated.
    Not to bring anything, is rude and inconsiderate.

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  • Ava Michaelson

    As a private music teacher, I am not always considered as a recipient of Christmas gifts and the like, but it is a pleasant surprise when I am. More than anything, I enjoy a thoughtful card or picture with specific comments rather than a general mention of thanks or generic gift.

    I try to have my children create personal notes/ cards for their teachers and maybe include something practical like post its:) I know teachers are bombarded with trinkets that they may not really enjoy or have a use for, so I don’t bother with those.