Families who give too much

The days of the coffee mug, bath salts and home-baked cookies are over. In affluent areas, some parents are turning holiday gifts for teachers into a competition, reports the LA Times.

Many schools — public and private — are adopting policies that discourage gifts or impose limitations so that particular teachers aren’t favored with armfuls of goodies while others head out for holiday vacation empty-handed.

The policies also lift the financial burden on students of little means who might feel compelled to compete with their better-off peers, said many school officials.

Recent news stories about a public school in Irvine where faculty allegedly demanded expensive jewels, perfumes and clothing in exchange for accepting a special needs student also have reinforced some educators’ desire to reconsider what is an appropriate expression of appreciation.

Some schools ask parents to donate cash to a teachers’ fund: All teachers get a share, whether they’re beloved or not. Education Gadfly thinks this impersonal dole lacks the festive spirit.

About Joanne


  1. “faculty allegedly demanded expensive jewels, perfumes and clothing in exchange for accepting a special needs student.” Isn’t there a law against public officials soliciting bribes?

  2. Richard Nieporent says:

    Some schools ask parents to donate cash to a teachers’ fund: All teachers get a share, whether they’re beloved or not.

    I’m not inclined to move forward on a no-gift policy. I want staff and teachers to feel that students and their families can show gratitude.”

    Do we really have to show gratitude for teachers to do the jobs they are paid to do? I thought teachers considered themselves to be professionals? The last time I looked professionals did not solicit tips.

  3. wayne martin says:

    A parent in my school district told me that am elementary teacher he knows was given a very expensive handbag by the parents of one of her students. The teacher returned it, and pocketing the cash–about $300.

    There’s always some way to launder money ..

  4. I wish *I* had the problem of receiving overly expensive Christmas gifts!

    Actually, I don’t. I’m overwhelmed with generosity that comes with a plate of homemade cookies, an American Chocolate Bar (the wrapper has a US flag on it), my favorite candies, a calendar depicting a tv show I watch, a Christmas tree ornament from the White House (the student’s parents worked in the Reagan White House, and still order the annual ornaments). One student’s parents own a Chinese restaurant, and they gave me some certificates for meals there. I received all of these this year, and several others.

    At my school we also have Parent Secret Santas, where a parent (sometimes one of our current students, sometimes not) “adopts” a teacher and gives gifts periodically throughout the school year. Our PTSA runs that, and the good will it engenders is significant. My Parent Secret Santa gave me a gift card to Chipotle, along with another wrapped gift addressed to my son–“from dad’s Secret Santa”, the tag says. How good a heart does someone have to have to do that?

    I don’t view this as soliciting bribes–although the situation in Joanne’s story certainly sounds like that was the case. It’s great when people show genuine appreciation for each other. For my part, I (hopefully surreptitiously) wrote down which student gave me which gift, and each of then will receive a hand-written thank-you card the day we return to school in January. Even in generosity, there’s a teachable moment.

  5. I thought teachers considered themselves to be professionals? The last time I looked professionals did not solicit tips.

    Many professionals receive holiday bonuses from their employers–is that not appropriate? Is it a practice that should be stopped?

    While this comes from the “employees” rather than the employers, I don’t see the problem with most Christmas gift-giving from students to teachers. But then again, the most pricey gift I’ve received in five years was a hot chocolate gift pack.

  6. Walter E. Wallis says:

    I’m a Professional Engineer. I’ve never been offered a tip, but who knows?

  7. Practicing law I sometimes received year-end gifts from clients who were particularly appreciative. Our family gives Christmas gifts to teachers who have clearly gone “above and beyond” their normal responsibilities. In a profession where the least valuable performers get the same raise as those who come in early and leave late to help their students achieve, it seems appropriate that at least parents can show special appreciation for special efforts.

  8. Roger Sweeny says:

    Let’s see: I got a Dunkin Donuts gift card from one student. And I contributed to a faculty holiday fund that helps out students who are in tought shape at the holidays. Financially, I’m down but I feel up.

    Actually, the best gift I got was a student telling me on the last day that she thought the work we were now doing was interesting.

  9. Richard Nieporent says:

    Since teachers (or at least the union) claim that they should not be paid more by their employer in recognition of superior performance, why do they solicit gifts from the parents? Shouldn’t a sincere thank you for doing an outstanding job be all the recognition they need?

  10. I’m happiest when I get a homemade card from a kid (which I did). The fact that our kids can go to the PTO run Christmas Store and buy gifts for $1 has lead to a huge increase in candy, coffee cups and chapstick. But the fact that a seventh grader (not an age where they particularly like their teachers) spent a dollar of his own to buy me a tube of hand lotion really makes an impression on me.

    Actually the best Christmas gift I got this year was when one of my PTO moms supplied breakfast for my entire homeroom on the last half day of school. She brought in sausage biscuits, sausage and cheese balls, cinnamon rolls, and pigs in a blanket, for the entire class, and even included a hot plate to keep breakfast warm. They loved it!

  11. For the winter holidays, our parents’ association pools donations so that each teacher receives an identical gift. It’s a bit less personal than receiving individual gifts, but then again, most of our kids have 7 or more teachers and specialists during the average school day, so it isn’t practical for families to start getting individual presents for every teacher or therapist that interacts with their child. Over the years I’ve gotten some individual gifts, but they tend to be from students themselves rather than from the family.

    I can’t speak for every single teacher out there, but for myself and the teachers that I know, I can say this much with confidence: none of us think about or care whether we’ll be receiving gifts from students. I don’t understand the mentality of expecting, much less demanding, any sort of gift. I suspect most teachers would prefer a heartfelt “thanks for taking the time to work with my child” from a parent, or a “wow, I learned a lot today” from a student, than any material item.

    Maybe I’ll just speak for myself. I am just wrapping up a unit on space with my 3rd graders. On Friday morning a kid stopped by my room to show me the new model solar system she’d gotten as a present from her family. Another kid told me he got a telescope. And another took all of his friends to the Museum of Natural History for his birthday party. To me that says everything. The money from the PA for Christmas was nice, but the idea that parents and kids are continuing to pursue the science curriculum outside of school, for fun, has made my entire holiday season.

  12. The worst yeat of my life was the one when I was the class parent for my son’s 4th grade in a private, Catholic school in Pasadena. One parent gave teachers an all expenses-paid weekend in his casino/hotel in Vegas. For everyone else, the gift-card fund was a blessing. Easy, the amount given was private, and the teachers were always glad–one size fits all.

    But the Irvine case was more about taking advantage of recently-arrived immigrants with a hard-to-place autistic kid. In Taiwan, the parents would expect to pay big bucks to get their kid any kind of education, the child wasn’t even toilet-trained at age 7, and the teachers at the school were greedy.

  13. Dick, you seem to be implying that all of us teachers are trolling around for expensive presents, or even just presents of any sort. That is not the case. While it is very nice to receive something from one of our children, and we are very appreciative when it happens, it’s not like we’re out there begging for gifts or talking about the horrible consequences that will befall a student if some sort of offering is not made.