May 14, 2008

Reader Question: Teacher Gifts

Dear Swistle,
(I just can't call you by your real name yet, I love you as Swistle :) ...I'm sorry!)
I need help! Here is my dilemma... as you know and have chronicled many times we are coming up quickly on end of the year teacher gifts...but wait! I have a tricky, tricky situation and need your readers' help. My daughter is in school for the first time this year and has had a precious, perfect, we shall never see the likes of this again, teacher. The same teacher who left a few weeks ago to have her first baby and made us all cry our eyes out with undying love and affection. (My daughter actually sobbed on my lap in the parking lot!) So we gave her a gift (Body Shop) wrote the principal a raving letter about her and gave her a copy, and created homemade coupons to help babysit at any time (she had expressed an interest in this help). The end.

But no.

Now we have end of the year in four weeks and multiple quandaries.
  1. Her substitute teacher has been lovely and just so happens to be my neighbour. So no token gift will do.
  2. Her chaplain (sweet private school) has a husband who is dying and has gone above and beyond to still be with, and love, these kids and we want to show our thanks.
  3. Her librarian (also teaches them twice a week) is a great friend and has been so, so kind to both of my kids.
  4. The two office ladies have gone above and beyond because my daughter has food allergies and has needed some (alot!) extra office help.
  5. Then there is the Spanish teacher (a doll), the music teacher (my daughter loves her), the PE teacher and the lovely lunchroom ladies who have watched over her so she doesn't die from her severe food allergy.
  6. And the wonderful, wonderful principal who has guided us all the way through and will continue to now for my son and daughter next year.
  7. Thank God there is no bus driver...that would be me. (I only bus them, though, so no chance of regifting here.)
My budget, however, as my husband is starting grad school next month and already is working more than one job, is only fifty dollars! (Which I should probably pay you for reading this and be done with it.) But - What do I do???
The dollar store candles seem so tacky, the homemade cards so not enough... I could maybe go up to $75 for everyone and eat beans for a few nights :).
Does anyone, do you think, have the powers to make me look as thankful as we are to that many people? Do you have any help? I'm sorry that this is such a hashed over question each year, but what would you do if you were me? To make matters worse I truly love gift giving, so this is a true expression of my heart and it has actually kept me up at night thinking.
I feel so cliché.
Thank you in advance.... Liana

This is SO TIMELY, Liana, because I was just thinking about teacher gifts this past week for a post I was working on over at Milk & Cookies. And so I am clear in my mind on this issue.

Here is the thing, the most important thing to keep in mind: teacher gifts were never intended to represent our actual level of gratitude. And thank goodness, right? I mean, how could we possibly thank them that much? We'd have to give them the ACTUAL CHILD.

Teacher gifts are meant to be TOKENS. Token is the very word. This does not change even if the teacher is THE LADY BEEZUS HERSELF, gracious and good and pure and kind.

And so how DO you represent your actual level of gratitude? That is the job of The Letter. You pour out your ever-loving heart. Don't worry about being too sappy: if you feel it, you say it. Don't worry about making it too long: if you appreciated it, write it down. The Token is merely a decoration for The Letter---a way of saying, "Here, let's make this a little prettier."

As for the tokens, you can pick what you think is best. I'd go with a $10 gift card to a local take-out or coffee place for the chaplain, a candy dish of Lindt truffles for the office ladies and principal all together, a $5 coffee gift card plus a plate of baked things for each of the other people.

Or, if you know some of the other parents, or have access to a way to send home letters with each child, one thing you could consider doing is managing a "pool our efforts" gift project. It is a ton of work, but it is one of the only ways a teacher gift can be something beyond a token. What you do is, you ask each family to pitch in the money they would have spent on a teacher gift. Then you get one big thing from all of you. A big gift card (maybe to somewhere like Target) is a great gift. If ten families each give $5-10, that's a nice $50-100 gift card right there. The problem, of course, is that not everyone will want to participate, and some people who SAY they want to participate won't come through, so it can be a hassle. But when it works, it's a great way to give a teacher a more significant present than usual.

If not, though, tokens are RIGHT. Put the gratitude into the letters.


Anonymous said...

I couldn't agree more with Swistle! Remember--just a TOKEN. I work in a school (as a Speech-Language Pathologist) and just a nice card/note does the trick for me. I don't really want you to go out and spend a bunch of money to "thank me". I do it because I LOVE working with kids. It's just nice to be appreciated....a simple "thanks" will do.

JMC said...

I have my kids write a thank-you note to the teachers and whomever else we plan to give something. Depending on their ages, they can just draw pictures or say something very simple, like "Thank you for being my teacher." Then we give candy with the notes, or homemade goodies if we have time for baking.

Miz S said...

Yes yes yes! I am a teacher! I know about this shit! We really don't want presents. A note is lovely. And maybe a gift card to a book store if you absolutely must do something besides a note. But a heartfelt note is enough.

Kristin.... said...

This is excellent! I had just begun thinking this over, as the horrid snow is causing our kids to go until almost the end of June. I love the idea of The Letter. I MUST start post haste (ok, later, after dinner) so that it is drafted just so. THANK YOU!

fairydogmother said...

Absolutely 100% spot-on advice! The perfect amount of thoughtfulness without breaking the bank. And I guarantee that each of the staff members will truly appreciate being thought of, because the gratitude will show through. This is what it means when we say that it is the thought that counts. Those heartfelt notes that say "hey, we really noticed how you went out of your way to go above and beyond for our child, and we really appreciate it!" mean the world to those who choose to spend their days working with children.

catnip said...

I agree. A token is enough, especially if it's homemade. Any more than that and you run the risk of embarrassing the receiver because you went overboard.

Anonymous said...

My teacher-father used to have a whole attic full of Old Spice cologne, which he hated. I would echo the above comments and add only this: Is there some way you can make your thanks public? Perhaps a letter to the local newspaper, or such? It is awfully nice to have public recognition for things.

Mama DB said...

we all pooled and went with a Target gift card this year. The kids made cards and one of the mom's put them all into a book with letters from the parents. I think the letter is the thing. People will know how much you mean to them if you tell them. not by how much you spend on them.

Meredith said...

A $5 gift card for Starbucks is a good gift - it's enough to treat yourself to one appreciated cup of coffee/tea/frappalattocino.

Jess said...

This is brilliant. It is so hard to remember that we do not have to go crazy and spend our entire life savings on gifts in order to make the recipient understand how much we appreciate them.

Niki said...

A note means so much. My boss writes the best most personal notes and I treasure each one. Put your heart into it and they will treasure it too.

Jennifer said...

I totally agree with you - notes go so much farther than a little gift ever could! I've kept notes from interns over the years and they are so nice to go back and read, especially when I've had a terrible day at work or am feeling unappreciated (which I'm sure teachers are, A LOT)

K.M.L said...

I am an elementary teacher and this was a GREAT idea from skip to my lou. Enjoy!(hopefully the link will work or cut and paste) It is a appreciation pill box and is adorable!

Anonymous said...

Hi! Not a mom myself, but my mom gave great teacher gifts when I was a kid- cheap, too!

She sought out cute stationary- individual sheets (8 or so) or a pad of pages with a cute print on it. Found a pen in colors to match, then wrapped the pad with a pretty ribbon and stuck the pen in the bow.

Useful, something they wouldn't buy for themselves, and a great token of appreciation.

Kelsey said...

Yes yes yes!!! The letter is totally underrated. I have all the kind letters/notes parents ever wrote to me and I used to take them out when I was having a difficult teaching day. There truly is no better gift.

Alice said...

so so so so so agree. i'm not a real teacher - taught piano for a few years, though - and letters from my kids were SO AWESOME. i still have all of those. if you actually give a gift that is "worthy" of how appreciative you are, you'll likely embarass the giftee. but an actual written letter outlining how much it meant? sounds cheesy, but is honestly priceless.

Bird said...

As a former teacher I can say that many a gift has ended up donated/re-gifted, but I have NEVER thrown away correspondence or pictures from the kids. Those are priceless.

PS:When in a pinch, give cool pens, paper clips, and post-its. I've never met a teacher who doesn't secretly love school supplies.

Anonymous said...

What about something for the whole school to use--donations for the library? something to use in the teacher's lounge? something for the classroom? Also love coordinated gifts from many families (esp. gift cards) or scrip cards (if your school fundraises this way).

Jess said...

Seriously, this is PERFECT! As a past teacher, I can tell you that the majority of the trinkets given at the end of the year, ended up in my annual garage sale the following month.(what? don't hate me for dicarding 1st graders gifts...what was I supposed to do with various mugs and xmas ornaments that proclaimed "#1 Teacer?) HOWEVER, all of the cards and handwritten letters are STILL in a cherished box, even though I haven't taught in over 5 years. A letter of appreciation means WAY more than any candle or Christmas ornament. What wonderful advice you gave....(I also thought it was an added bonus when the parent would take a picture of me with their child and include that in the letter, it's so fun to look at years down the road - or when you get the random graduation announcement 11+ years later)
Also, notes to the principal about how pleased you are with various staff also goes along way (in addition to The Letter)

Lisa said...

As a teacher, letters are awesome. I have many that I re-read over and over again.

But as a mother, I understand wanting to do something more. All teachers love food (it's a fact). So I like to make soups and cookies and what not in a jar. Then they just need to add a few ingredients and voila dinner. Anything that saves time with dinner is a winner. There are books you get at the check-out counter that have a ton of ideas. And Allrecipes has some good ones as well. They are inexpensive but thoughtful gifts.

Here is the link

brandy said...

As a teacher, i couldn't agree with you more. For mothers day I really worked hard with my kids to create a great gift (a laminated and bound book answering questions about their moms- which were hilarious, plus pictures in decorated frames). I got a letter back from a mom today sent in her childs agenda telling me how thoughtful and how much she appreciated it. It made me feel so good. A good letter goes a long way!

Suzannah said...

Letters are wonderful! Here are a few other tokens I've gotten that have accompanied a sweet letter:

- a mint plant from a parent's garden, tea bags, and mint tea recipe

- A book donation to our library in my honor (our librarian puts a nice little book plate inside to that effect)

- pooled contributions to a nice dinner out

- one parent covered my class (with principal approval) several times a year, brought games and books to share with the kids, gave me $10 and sent me out to lunch. Lunch with adults! A real treat!

- Another parent photographed the kids all year on field trips, doing activities, etc. and made me a neat scrapbook at the end of the year with notes from the kids. Loved that!! A little late for this year, but next year...

- One child, adopted from China, made a donation in my honor to an organization that works with Chinese orphans and wrote, "Since you can't teach in China, we are sending your love and dedication to the children there." I cry every time I read it!

Truly, a nice note is the best, expecially with lots of hugs, or a donation. We don't need more things!

HollyLynne said...

poke around on Etsy!!! There are tons upon tons of great gifts on there in the $5 and under range. Try searching book plates, stationery, pendants, simple beaded jewelry, handmade soaps . . .all sorts of things!

Some sellers I love are Savor for yummy handmade soaps, Adorapop for inexpensive literary themed pendants and EnfinLaVoila for gorgeous stationary

Stacie said...

Screw the token. As a former teacher (now SAHM) the tokens become clutter very quickly but a LETTER, well, I saved those. I still have them all in a box. Spring for some nice stationary if you must but the best letter I ever got was written on lined paper torn from a spiral bound notebook. I treasure that note.