Grade Expectations: I Just Got Shamed For Being Stingy With My School Holiday Gifts

For a minute, I felt really guilty. They were right. I hadn’t brought in cookies for the janitors or cafeteria workers. These often thankless jobs deserved some holiday spirit as well. Sure, I donate money to the PTA to provide a holiday breakfast for all the school’s workers, but I didn’t do anything personally. And they interact with my daughter on a daily basis as well, just like assistants and vice principals. Maybe I was a little short-sighted in my holiday gift-giving.

After I helped my daughter deliver her goodies and head home though, I started to get a little more defensive. This little jab might have been the first time these ladies ever spoke to me. Yes, I’ve seen them around the school. Yes, I’ve smiled and waved in greeting. And we’ve never talked. I don’t know their names. My daughter has never talked to me about them. It seems a tad presumptuous to get crappy with someone that you don’t know for not bringing you a gift for the holidays.

At that point, my frustration and doubt really boiled over into anger. I do a lot for my daughter’s school and daycare. I volunteer my time. I donate whatever I can to help. I put a lot of effort into being an involved and thoughtful member of the school’s community. How dare they make me feel guilty because I didn’t make enough flippin’ holiday tins for every member of the school. At that point, I wouldn’t been baking a whole additional day for every person we come into contact with in that school. I cannot be expected to have holiday gifts for every member of a 30-person staff.

Now, I’m just not sure what to feel. I really do want to be kind and thoughtful during the holidays. I give out a lot of gifts to extra-curricular instructors, babysitters, etc. I plan on helping the parent-organized “Thank you” efforts for the entire school. And I really do understand that it must be frustrating to watch every other co-worker get remembered by the students and their families during the holidays.

At the same time, throwing snark at me wasn’t the right way to earn my gratitude. If either of these ladies had taken the time to introduce themselves in the past couple months, I might have added them to my holiday gift list. I’m in my daughter’s schools on a really frequent basis.

After yesterday’s episode, I feel even more confused than before on the appropriate level of school gift-giving. It’s making me wish I lived in a state like Alabama, where teachers aren’t allowed to accept any gifts from students. Then, I just wouldn’t have to worry about it at all. But I might miss the baking.

(Photo: Hasloo Group Production Studio/Shutterstock)

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  • TheLily

    You know what I might do in that situation? I would write up a little card that says happy holidays and write a little explanation that you’re sorry that you didn’t bring them cookies, but you don’t know them that well. Maybe see if you can’t get to know them a little bit and then next year make them some cookies.

    I personally admire your commitment to getting to know the teachers and the others in the school. My husband will be the one doing that in the future, because meeting people and getting to know them is far from a strong suit in me. I wouldn’t even be able to name ten people I know personally that I like enough to make cookies for (unless I’m ten people!)

    good for you for caring, and hopefully they don’t hold it against you. It was rude to make the jab, but they probably always get left out. You were just there at the wrong time and that’s no fun at all :(. Hope the rest of your holidays are great!

  • Michelle

    I think you’re reading way too much into the situation. I know the custodians at the school where I work are always joking and poking fun at each other/other staff. Brush it off and move on.

    • ipsedixit010

      Yea, I think the first one was being funny and making a joke. The second person though seemed a little snarky (if that’s the exact wording).

      Maybe next year have a small plate to drop off to the secretary for everyone? Janitors and lunch ladies can be overlooked because parents don’t get a lot of face time with them, but they’re an integral part to a school running properly.

  • E.D.

    I’d ask the head of the center to remind their employees that Christmas gifts are gifts and not obligations (i.e. to keep their traps shut).

  • M. C.

    Your daughter doesn’t talk about them because they’re invisible to her, just like they’re invisible to you. When you resent people who do thankless work for pointing out that, in fact, they don’t get thanked, that displays an enormous level of privilege.

    • LindsayCross

      If you’d like to judge me, have at it. But don’t assume you know or understand my daughter.

    • Andrea


    • Blueathena623

      Oh, please now. How often did you discuss the lunch ladies as a kid? After going to the store do you tell all your family members about the cashier who served you?

    • trufflepuff

      I never did, because all they did was slop a scoop of corn on my plate and tell me to move along (if anything). They deserve respect as any human being who shows up to work does, but they’re not unseen saints, they’re common laborers. I don’t think people deserve a special thank you for doing the job they’re paid to do. In this case, a teacher might be seen as an exception because they also carry an emotional and social value, which is not paid for. You thank them for that. And don’t think I’m some high class person turning my nose up at blue collar workers, my parents raised me on welfare and I’m happy with minimum wage jobs (and don’t expect a pat on the head for going through the motions of my menial labor).

    • Leigha7

      I still remember some of the people who worked in the dining hall my freshman year of college (before I transferred to another school). I ran into one while shopping last year, several years after the last time I saw him, and he recognized me and we had a nice conversation. He always made me smile when I got pasta (the station he worked at). It brightened my day to talk to him.

      I also remember a cashier in the dining hall at the school I transferred to who gave me a free cookie once out of nowhere (they sold them in 2 packs, so there was an extra). I have no idea why she gave it to me, or why she or one of the other workers didn’t just eat it themselves, but that made my day as well. Not because I got free stuff, but because of how happy she was about giving it to me. It was like she WANTED to brighten my day, and because of that, she did.

      I can’t possibly be the only one who’s had days dramatically improved by food servers and cashiers.

    • Erica

      I don’t think the lunch ladies or janitors are invisible to kids. They are just never introduced. how is a kid supposed to know someone’s name if they aren’t informed? In my schools there were always multiple people working the cafeteria but no one (on either side) made small talk. The kids, in their large numbers, are more invisible to the workers than the other way around. No one should expect a gift but don’t even think about it unless you know my kid’s name and she knows yours.

    • bookworm81

      When I worked in an elementary school all the kids knew the name of the head Janitor (the only one who was there during the day). I was an aide in the kindergarten and of course with the little kids he was in and out of the classrooms a lot and the teachers and kids always thanked him by name which helped but we also made a point to talk about how they needed to clean up after themselves because otherwise he couldn’t do his job.

    • Leigha7

      No, the kids aren’t anywhere near invisible to the workers, at least at my school. The janitors and cafeteria workers knew the names of just about every child in the entire school. The kids knew their names, as well.

    • EditKitten

      Pointing out someone else’s rudeness (or perceived rudeness) is, well, rude. Even if they felt they deserved a gift, they shouldn’t have said anything. Pointing out that they don’t get thanks is the height of classlessness.

  • Blueathena623

    Question — why did you give cookies to the administrators? Do they interact that much with your daughter?
    Anyways, those employees shouldn’t have said anything, but as someone who worked in a school as an everything-but-a-teacher person (recess, lunch duty, after school, long term sub, helping with projects and performances, working with teachers to teach mini-classes like news paper or stop motion) it did hurt when parents had gifts for, say, enrichment teachers who spend 45 minutes a week with a kid, when I spent an hour a day with little Suzy or Johnny, but since you aren’t a official teacher, you don’t count. However, I never really warned gifts, just a thank you and happy holidays would suffice, verbal recognition that I exist. All that being said, I do realize that if a kid never mentions me (or the lunch lady, or the janitor) parents have no idea who is spending what time with their kids.

    • Erica

      Official teacher or not, you do count. I think the problem is that parents just don’t know. Maybe the school could be out a holiday newsletter with the staff’s name and photo. Parents could then ask the kids who they spend a lot of time with. I wouldn’t want to leave anyone out.

    • Elle

      Why not just ask the kid? If your kid can’t name them, and never talks about them, don’t give them a gift. Not everyone wants their photo, name and place of employment printed up and shared with people I don’t know. I sure wouldn’t.

  • Byrd

    meh go back with some scratch-offs in a card and give to them theyre either cleaning up food or preparing food they may not want food for Christmas

  • Justme

    What the people said, regardless of intent, was out of line and I can definitely see how it could be hurtful.

    But having worked in a school, I can also see how those “invisible” workers (the cafeteria employees, the bus driver and the janitor) could possibly feel left out during the holiday gifting season. I honestly hadn’t ever thought about things from their perspective. As teachers we are always receiving trinkets, gift cards and treats from the students and their families but the “invisible” employees work hard to keep our school clean and functioning and should receive some sort of recognition as well.

    Please understand that I’m not judging or critiquing you for not having given treats to them….the remarks made to you honestly opened my eyes to the fact that there are lots of people here on my campus that aren’t being shown the same respect and appreciation that I am.

    • Andrea

      I don’t know how it works at every school. But at my kids’ school the support staff each get a recognition day with a lunch, presents, and hoopla. We have bus driver appreciation week, cafeteria worker appreciation day, administrative staff appreciation day, etc.

    • Justme

      I work in a large middle school and we do the administrative and paraprofessional stuff as well as a staff collection for our awesome janitor but as far as organized recognition and appreciation from the students….there’s little to none.

    • chickadee

      Yes, and I wish I’d thought about that when my daughters were younger. I baked pumpkin bread for their current teachers, all of their past teachers, the PE teacher, the bus driver, and the orchestra director. I never worried much about the administrators, but I wish I’d remembered ALL the custodians, instead of simply the man who was friendly and chatty with the children. I can’t remember his name now, but he was pretty great. And yet there were others who deserved my thanks as well, and it didn’t occur to me to send a box of cookies for the staff.

      This sort of situation can easily deteriorate into a gift-giving black hole, but (especially considering that my daughters spent 12 years in the underfunded Texas public schools) it never hurts to let the behind-the-scenes, underpaid school employees know that we appreciate their efforts.

    • Justme

      We have an awesome janitor who is always the first person in the building in the morning and brews a great (and strong) pot of coffee. During September and October I’m at school by 7:00 for volleyball practice and that coffee is CRUCIAL to the success of the volleyball team. ;) I sent a glowing email to the principal mentioning how thankful I was for our janitor in the mornings for making that pot of coffee. It doesn’t have to be a big show of appreciation but any small “thank you” is always nice.

    • Leigha7

      I knew the janitors at my elementary school personally (given that I was related to one of them), so I have some insight into that perspective.

      Most of them don’t really EXPECT gifts. I’m sure that’s probably true for teachers as well (at least in the “you’d better give me something or else” sense of the word, though by now they probably do expect to receive some), but janitors and such are frequently overlooked. But they do care, and it means a lot to them to receive some sort of appreciation for all their hard work.

      The teachers at my school (with a few exceptions) really seemed to appreciate them, and they would actually give them stuff themselves. Sometimes they would give them extra snacks from a class party (especially on the rare instances when it was the teacher who brought them in). On several occasions, they would give them a box of chocolates or a plate of cookies. I know teachers already spend a decent amount of their own money on their classrooms, but there are only a few janitors in the entire school, so every teacher could contribute a tiny amount and still give them something nice. (At my elementary school, there were 3 janitors and about 30 teachers, so you could literally each give about a quarter and buy three boxes of chocolates.)

      The students sometimes gave them things, also. Sometimes they were included in the Valentine’s Day handouts, or a kid’s birthday. This was less common and always GREATLY appreciated. I didn’t know the cafeteria workers and bus drivers as well, but I think they may have actually been overlooked more in this regard, so I’m sure they’d love to be included as well.

      Probably the best thanks a teacher can give the janitors during the holiday season is to clean up as much of the post-holiday-party mess as they can, instead of just leaving it all for the janitor to do. You may think they wouldn’t even notice, but trust me, they will. They’ll notice, and they will go home and tell their families about you and how awesome you are.

  • Andrea

    Honestly, I would have been boiling mad. They were mean and bitchy and snarky and COMPLETELY out of line. I would have complained to whoever is in charge of them.

  • NotThumper

    Wow… I’d be beyond pissed off if that was said to me. I’ve worked in a daycare center as a teacher and never once received a gift for a holiday or anything like that. I also never really thought much about it. When I was in school I also didn’t give my teachers gifts either.
    I don’t care who you are, expecting a gift is tacky and those employees were way out of line. Quite frankly they are fortunate to have a job and a steady paycheck, anything after that is nice sure but certainly not necessary.

  • Fabel

    I think–at least the first comment–was a simple joke. I work the front desk at my job, & when flowers, or edible arrangements, or cake, or cookies, or ANYTHING really, is waiting at my desk to be picked up by its intended recipient, people walk by & say things. “OOOH, for me?” “I really must call home & tell Bobby he *shouldn’t have*! haha!” Sooo, that’s what the first “ooh, treats for us?” remark sounds like.

    The follow-up maybe sounds a little more bitter, but whatever. Like you said, they ARE invisible employees & maybe they feel that way. I doubt they meant to shame you personally. They’ve probably forgotten it by now, whereas you’re still ruminating. Honestly–don’t worry about it.

  • chickadee

    After re-reading your article, I have an easy solution that will prevent anyone from feeling left out without your having to bake a ton of extra stuff for anyone who works in the school.

    Bring gifts for teachers in an opaque bag. That way no one can see what you are carrying.

    • LindsayCross

      Hehe. That’s a good tip that I might have to remember. I had a talk about it with my mom tonight, who happens to work at a school. I think my solution is just going to be making a tray of treats to take into the teacher’s lounge at school and one for the daycare center. I really do appreciate everyone at the school and I want to show them all some gratitude. I was just really thrown off by the comments.

    • chickadee

      That is an excellent suggestion. The PTA usually put something like that on for faculty and staff, but if you have a sucky PTA then it doesn’t work out too well. And anyone would feel bad about that exchange — especially the second comment — but you should also not feel responsible for all employees at every place your daughter has an activity. You’d go insane.

    • LiteBrite

      I think that’s an excellent idea. In fact, I’m going to steal it if you don’t mind because I’ve been struggling with this same question of what, who, and how much to buy for the teachers and daycare teachers who take care of my son all day.

    • JLS

      As a teacher I agree that it’s a fabulous idea! All of the staff, including custodial, kitchen and administrative, enjoy it! It’s also a great treat to nibble on during the day. A box of teas was gifted to us recently and that was a big hit as well!

    • jenn

      I think what would be great is a nice card/letter during the holidays. (since there’s all the other kids’ parents are probably bringing). And then – right before spring break or just before school ends, sending an “edible arrangements” or two thanking EVERYONE – teachers, admin, support staff, cafeteria workers, etc.

  • Fred Campos

    Lindsay, you’re doing great and you did a great thing. Shake it off, you cannot please all the people all the time AND as hard as you try you cannot appreciate everyone. It’s your choice to give a blessing. If it happens again, just keep walking and smile. Don’t let one sour grape out shine the fruitful blessing of the bunch.

  • Katiala

    I wouldn’t use the word “shame” here. They were perhaps complaining. Probably not happy with their lot in life. And here’s an article about how rude and aggressive the janitors/ caff staff are and how they hurt your feelings… You will definitely feel better if you bake them all some cookies. (generous portions)
    There’s still time left so why not? It’s the assertive thing to do and it doesn’t cost much, obviously. And they’ll remember your daughter in a good way

    • Shea

      I agree. It seems like “shaming” is the new term for anything from being mildly embarrassed to flat-out harassed. Bit over-used, if you ask me.

  • Eileen

    I wouldn’t worry about it. Someone who knows you or your daughter by name and face is someone you should acknowledge. Someone who wouldn’t recognize either of you may work hard, and so is hopefully acknowledged by a paycheque and perhaps even a holiday bonus, but isn’t someone to whom you should feel obligated to give a gift.

  • C.J.

    Well, I must be really rude then. I only send a gift for their actual classroom teacher. They are the people that spend the most amount of time with the kids. The last day of school before Christmas break and before summer break they give their gift to the teacher and the teacher gives a small gift to each kid (usually some little candies or a little book). I would go broke if I sent a gift to every employee at the school. Everyone I know does the same.

    • Leigha7

      Depending on the age of your kids, they may NOT be the person spending the most time with them. I know when I was in elementary school, from 3rd grade on we rotated between the three teachers for our grade level. We had one for science, one for social studies, one for English, one for reading (dependent upon skill level), one for math (also based on skill), and then our homeroom teacher. Unless your homeroom teacher was also your reading and/or math teacher, you probably spent more time in another room.

      I mean, I assume you would know if this were the case, I just wanted to point out the possibility. I do agree with you, though, that giving presents to everyone in the school is a bit much.

  • Yves

    You pay how much a month in daycare?? Um you shouldn’t even have to give anything except that huge check. If they’re that disgruntled, then they need a new job or are just miserable b*tches who will be miserable no matter what you did.

  • copycait

    Rather than gifting everybody individually, could you send a few tins of cookies for the staff room, where everybody visits, and then just individually gift the teacher?

  • Venessa

    What they said and joked about was definitely very rude! I have never come across such a situation at my son’s day care (fortunately).
    Gifts for teachers is one aspect of the holidays that get me really stressed out. As you said – it is difficult to decide who gets gifts and who doesn’t! For the past couple of years, I have been giving his class teachers separate gifts, and then I get one big gift card to a cafe/pizza place for the day care. The intention is to acknowledge every one else – including past teachers. I make sure to include a card which says “To all teachers and admins” and include a big Thank you!

  • kt

    what?!? your sister actually loves to bake and spend a day doing it together with you?!?!?! i am soooo JEALOUS!! my sis’s idea of gifting goodies is handing someone a package of Oreos(holiday colored – of course) it is OKAY to have ALL those feelings: feelings are neither right nor wrong, they just ARE. they had no right to be snarky in the first place. I am glad i opt for the generic holiday card for staff.. it was much easier when my kids went to a smalll private school.. now at the over full public school, i dont do anything but say Thank You. :) and that is really all ANY one should expect.

  • Erica

    They were so rude! Do they know your daughter’s name? Does she talk to them regularly or make big messes for them to clean up? Maybe just a plate of cookies for everyone would make sure you didn’t leave anyone out. I certainly wouldn’t go out of my way for these people after such an unprofessional comment.

  • jh

    When I taught, I was very uncomfortable receiving presents from my students. I felt badly for the kids whose parents didn’t have the money/time/inclination to do something for me because it seemed like the kids felt badly when a student gave me a present and they didn’t have something. I would have preferred nothing at all and let them focus their energies on their family and friends.

  • TeacherLady

    FFS. Give whatever you want to whichever staff members you want. Trust me when I say unless whatever treats you brought are a particular favorite of somebody’s, they will be shared. As to people saying leave something in the office or staff room, there is a good chance the cafeteria and janitorial staff don’t get into those places too often. The first comment sounds jokey, the second one comes across as rude, although it is probably representative of how that person feels. However, like tips (at least here in CA where everybody makes minimum wage, even wait staff), anything extra is just that–extra. People can be too overboard with the present nonesense as well and that can be uncomfortable.
    Don’t worry, those of us who understand our working relationships with the janitorial/cafeteria/office staff say Thank you, often including presents. I doubt they would expect it from parents unless those parents had very specific working relationships with them.

    • Leigha7

      Whether the cafeteria and janitorial staff spend a lot of time in the staff room depends on the school. At my school (where it was called the teacher’s lounge), they didn’t typically spend a great deal of time there, but they did pop in to use the microwave or to get coffee or soda, so they would certainly know about and have access to any treats that were there. There are probably some schools where janitors only enter that room to clean (and cafeteria workers probably not at all), though, so if you’re deliberately having food sent there in the hopes that everyone will be able to access it, it might be a good idea to double check.

  • Flora

    Goodness gracious! I pretty much agree with Blueathena623 on this one, though on the administrator account I can say that we put in a LOT of work behind the scenes that rarely gets recognized and good administrators do interact with the children on a daily basis. You do, however, get props for considering the after school staff. I run an after school and it is utterly thankless, so whenever a parent does even the smallest thing (like a card saying, “Thanks for all you do, Merry Christmas!”) it’s kind of a big deal. We have a few families who every year will do something big for all of us (usually they’re the educators – teachers, administrators, coaches – whose children attend), some who ask me which counselors deal with their child specifically (our counselors rotate and the kids think we all share three names) and get something for them, but the fact that anyone thinks of us at all means a lot.

  • A Teacher

    If you’re feeling generous, get those tins/books/whatever together for the staff you know. Then, just to cover your bases…make one up for the staff area with a note along the lines of “Thank you for all you do for the kids and the community. Happy Holidays! Merry Christmas!”

    You can’t do everything for everyone.

  • nikki753

    Pretty solid case of ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t’. If every parent brought a tin of cookies for every employee, there would simply be too many freaking treats to consume and the next thing you know, everyone would be complaining about how everyone is trying to make them fat. Ugh.

    I can see their point (but certainly not their delivery) where it must sting to watch the gifts and treats be passed out each year without anything for them. But on the other hand, be helpful and memorable. Neither of these people knew for sure that nothing you had was for them, but neither one said, “Here, let me get the door for you.” If they were that kind of person, you would probably have established a rapport a long time ago and one of those this would have been for them.

    You get gifts for being good to people. When I started elementary
    school, we had a remarkable head janitor. He was personable and kind and
    good to all of us. We loved him. He deserved treats. Then he retired
    and we got another guy. This one scolded sick children for vomiting and
    told them to clean it up themselves. He nixed certain activities and
    events because he didn’t want the cleanup involved (we’re not talking
    about something like a mud run that looped through the building at the
    end… just regular stuff). He deserved no treats. And that had nothing to do with anyone being stuck up and feeling ‘above’ the staff.

    In the future, I could see a tray or a charity donation for each the janitorial, cafeteria, and office staff members just so you don’t worry. However, it’s unreasonable and rude to expect a gift from a relative stranger and exceptionally rude to snap at you like that.