As you barrel toward the end of the school year, locating a gift for your child’s teacher—not to mention the bus driver, scout leaders and coaches—can generate a level of stress and expense that feels reminiscent of the holiday gift-giving rush. Often parents opt for the standard “Number 1 Teacher” statue or the generic mall gift certificate, and their children have little, if anything, to do with the process.
When you do that, said Jon Gallo, co-author with his wife Eileen of Silver Spoon Kids: How Successful Parents Raise Responsible Children, not only does the gift become meaningless to your child, “you also pass on the feelings to them that the gift is an obligation or a nuisance, rather than a recognition of a wonderful teacher.”
So before the stress sets in, Leah Ingram, a gift-giving and etiquette expert and syndicated money-saving blog called Suddenly Frugal, recommends reviewing the purpose of the gift. “It’s meant as a thank you for your child having a good year and should be a simple token of appreciation,” said the mother of two.
From the teacher’s point of view, said Mary Sussman of Old Bethpage, a special education teacher, it’s a meaningful way to end the school year.
“The thought of the gift is much appreciated by most teachers,” she said. “I’ve saved every card and picture students have given me, and some days I’d have a parent or the principal yell at me, and I’d go back into what I called a happy folder of those cards to remind myself of why I teach.”
Further, though it’s not exactly altruistic, said Stacy DeBroff, author of The Mom Book, 4,278 Tips From Moms for Moms, it doesn’t hurt your reputation any as a family to be seen by school personnel as thoughtful, especially if younger siblings will soon be in attendance.
The Gift Game
Of course, there’s a fine line between thanking a teacher for the difference they made in your child’s life and trying to outdo the other parents. “Finding the right gift can be a challenge, but keep in mind that you’re not in a competition with the other parents over who gives the best gift,” said DeBroff. (To read about ideas for gifts, click here.)
If you find yourself in a game of one-upsmanship, Eileen Gallo suggests asking yourself whose needs you’re meeting.
“Parents could recognize this as an opportunity to help their children understand that it’s not your family value to get an expensive gift just because others are,” she said. “Instead, buy books for the classroom library or donate to the teacher’s favorite charity.”
Besides, sometimes costly gifts can feel over the top, said Deborah Serani, a former preschool teacher and a psychologist in private practice in Smithtown. “I once got a beautiful diamond pendant from a mother, but it felt too personal,” she said. “It just made me uncomfortable.”
Jon Gallo said another issue with an elaborate gift is that it can seem like a bribe. “In addition to the fact that it’s probably too late in the year to influence your child’s grades or how the teacher feels about him, a gift isn’t likely to make a difference to a professional,” he said. “But if that’s your intention, it’s not a good message for your child.”
Even the simplest present can cause a problem, however. Many parents opt to take up a collection for a class gift as it saves time and can provide a more significant item. But there are potential drawbacks. For one thing, some parents say it feels like one more obligation and it’s impersonal.
Group gifts worry teachers, too, because it places a burden on students who may not be able to participate and can cause a child to become needlessly upset. To deal with this situation, Sussman said some schools have policies that teachers can’t open gifts in front of the children.
What Teachers Say
The best solution all around, according to teachers, is to give homemade gifts. (To read about an idea for a homemade gift, click here.) Drawings, photo albums from class trips and activities or hearing from a child about any highlights from the school year all make the grade.
To that end, DeBroff suggests writing a letter indicating how the teacher made a difference for your child. Leave space for him to jot down what he enjoyed most. You could even send a copy to the principal so it becomes part of the teacher’s personnel file.
But if you prefer a more traditional gift, Serani suggests asking your child for ideas. “Kids know what their teacher is interested in because it’s very hard to leave your interests out of the classroom and kids love to hear about it,” she said.
You can’t go wrong with gifts that are directly related to the job, DeBroff said. For instance, if the teacher takes photos of the class, give her a memory card. Since teachers often spend their own money to stock their classrooms, make a gift basket of supplies. If you’re stumped, it’s okay to ask the teacher if there’s anything she would like for the classroom. Ingram said for those who need a monetary range to work with, $15 to $25 is a sufficient amount to spend.
And while gift-giving is more of an issue for elementary school where your child and classroom teacher spend each day together and you get to know them as well, even in middle and high school where students have several teachers, DeBroff said you could always opt for the personal thank you for your child’s favorite teacher.
Finally, don’t forget the specialty staff, like the gym teacher, school nurse and librarian, even if it means getting more gifts. “They don’t have their own classroom, so they’re probably not recognized as much,” Ingram said. “Bake a batch of cookies. The little effort will be seen as a lot.”
Above all, said Serani, remember that gift giving should never feel obligatory and should reflect how much the teacher has impacted your child’s school year.