Gift Giving Gone Wild


gifts.jpgWhen did giving gifts to our children’s teachers become mandatory? And when did it become extravagant?
My whole introduction to the gifting system occurred several years ago when my first child entered kindergarten. I was startled, at first, and then perplexed by the whole process. I was in awe that there even was a process.
About five minutes after the first day of kindergarten commenced, the class mother approached the parents of the children in class looking to take up a collection for the teacher gift. My exact thoughts were, Collection? For what? And you want this now?
The request, though, was stated so efficiently, so matter-of-factly, I felt it left no room for denial. Still, I wanted to ask, “Do I have a choice?”

Originally, I thought I’d wait and see how the year went. Observe the type of school work brought home. Learn about the teaching methods being used. See if I even liked the teacher. I assumed, incorrectly apparently, that was the type of criteria on which gifts were based. I didn’t know then that gifts were given to teachers, automatically, every year no matter what.
Since that time I have grown accustomed to the tradition, and I have even been grateful for its convenience. Plus, I can appreciate its practicality. Why have everyone go out and buy 5 million useless, crappy gifts when you can pool the money to buy one big, nice gift?
The problem is it’s not just one gift.

With my second child now in public school and gift giving season in full-on frenzy, I am struck once again at the nature and growing grandeur of the tradition. Something about it simply rubs me the wrong way. It’s not just that I pay the teachers’ salaries and then have to buy them a gift on top of it, and it isn’t just that teachers work 6 months (180 days) out of the year and yet manage to reap a full salary, and it isn’t just that kindergarten teachers in my district work 4 hours/day of the 6 months that schools are in session, but the irksome nature also stems from what appears to me to be extravagance in an offering that was supposed to be a modest show of appreciation.
And, I’m fairly certain the custom originated at a time when teachers received meager salaries. That’s not the case today.
Don’t get me wrong. Teachers are important, and the good ones are invaluable. But that’s what I mean. Shouldn’t parents give gifts to the teachers they find to be exceptional? Isn’t that what the gifts were supposed to mean in the first place?
And while the $10 per student collection the class moms take up isn’t extravagant, $10 times 20 students is. So the class moms divide the $200 gift in half, presenting the teacher with one for the holidays and one at the end of the year. Two gifts? Now we’re giving two gifts?
And then, as my boss, Georgette, a teacher, likes to point out there is teacher appreciation day. (But I don’t mean you, Georgette). She deserves all the gifts she gets.
Plus, the parents practically keep the school operational. They perform lunch duty, class parent duty, library duty (although we have a librarian), arrange school trips, arrange special assemblies, run kindergarten orientation, do class room art projects, organize and run holiday parties. Then there’s the endless fundraising. The bake sales, basket raffles, fair day, car wash, Scholastic book fair, gift card program, legacy gift (legacy gift? To the elementary school?). And don’t forget the collection for the class room supplies, the computers donated to the school by parents, the rugs donated, the books donated and the trees and garden provided, planted and maintained by parents.

One more thing. We also throw the teachers a year-end luncheon.
I know. I know. We are supposed to do all that. It is for our children. But where is our reward? Oh, yes, our children. Well, I prefer my reward in cold, hard cash.
By the way, I’d like to say I was a teacher for a while at a preschool. I did receive some gifts, but I was fairly astounded when I did. I didn’t expect it, and while the gifts were very nice, they weren’t necessary.
Now, though, I wouldn’t mind getting a $200 gift for all my hard work in bringing these riveting stories to you, the readers. So who wants to start up a collection for me?
(Photo: Flickr: rick)


  1. OK, what school does your child go to so I can be sure and avoid that one! wow — I am really shocked to read this article. My kids are not yet in kindergarden so I am naive on these practices. What happens if you just opt out?? Buy your own little gift at the end of the year that costs the amount you feel comfortable with — that’s what I would do….I don’t think I will balk to such pressure. I live in Montclair and we definitely pay MORE than enough in property taxes to cover teachers. It’s absurd. I honestly wouldn’t do it. What can they do — stop teaching your kids??

  2. I agree the gift giving has gotten out of hand. However, I wish this didn’t turn into an opportunity to dump on teachers again. Actually most teachers I know do not expect gifts and share the attitude of the writer, that even a small token is appreciated. I think this practice is coming more from over-involved parents than from any expectation on the part of the teachers; and, as such, is worth reviewing. One of my daughter’s teachers actually explicitly stated she did not want any gifts other than perhaps hand-written cards from the students. She was ignored by the class parents.
    Also to state that teachers only work 6 months (180 days) is unfair both in fact and in the context of what is a valid critique of gift-giving. Do people who work five days a week only work 5/7 of the year – what about their 2 or 3 weeks vacation?

  3. Agreed, I think the gift giving is more of a reflection of over involved parents.
    And, good point about the 5-day work week, however, the 180 days is not nearly sufficient to provide our children with an adequate education and prepare them to compete in the global economy. And I do acknowledge good teachers spend a chunk of their own time grading papers, preparing course work, having conferences & meetings, ect., but the fact remains that kids go to school 180 days out of 365 a year. That fact, to me, is astounding.

  4. I’m all for rants, but I’m not sure they should qualify as a “riveting story.” And while I’m guessing Ms. Gill is writing in the keyboard version of tongue-in-cheek ~ at least during the last two sentences, perhaps this posting should have a header of “Holy Rant, Baristaville!”
    Ian pointed out a few of the issues with the facts presented (and even opinion pieces or published rants should adhere to those), so I won’t bother with that.
    Basically, all of Ms. Gill’s ire could have been avoided if she had simply said, “No.” You know, an assertive, self-assured response to a request for money that we all would like to claim to use in every situation?
    If a parent wants to go rogue and/or doesn’t want to participate, there’s nothing more than peer pressure to run from. Don’t we want to teach our precious munchkins to resist the same?
    It’s true, Ms. Gill mentions that she actually appreciates the convenience of the collection. It’s the huge $200 a year amount that seems to bother her. That, in addition to the substantial salaries and minimal work days, is what makes this gift-giving tradition terrible.
    What I find terrible is that the parents who help out so much and keep the school Ms. Gill’s child/ren attend operational aren’t given a Thank You gift. (Because if they were, I’m sure it would have been mentioned.) Perhaps Ms. Gill could be the person who institutes some form of thank you to these parents.
    In the meantime, here are some responses for those who don’t want to contribute to a collection – no matter the reason:
    * I’m giving a personal gift to the teacher this year.
    * The check’s in the mail.
    * We prefer to make our own thank you so the kids can participate.
    * I already bought the teacher a Kia Sportage.
    * We’ve decided to refrain from gift-giving this year.
    * We donated to (fill in the cause of the day) in our teacher’s name.
    And so on.
    *Full disclosure: In my time as a teacher (and I know high school is a horse of a very different color) I received a few gifts despite the ban on gift-giving in the NYC public schools. I still use the two mugs, and I treasure the book a student gave me with an explanation of why she wanted me to have it. However, it’s the hand-written thank you letters, sometimes quite lengthy, that made me get goose-bumps and weep. For the cost of a piece of lined paper and a pen, and by “spending” the time it takes to recall a couple of events during the school year, you and your child will be remembered far longer than the $100 massage the class gave the teacher. (Not that I don’t think that’s a FANTASTIC idea too!)

  5. I too was shocked to discover that last September (at the 1st parent meeting), I was asked to contribute $85 to a “class fund” at my 3 1/2 yr old daughter’s preschool! I agree that you can always say “no”, but it’s a bit uncomfortable when you are asked in front of all the parents & everyone else immediately takes out their checkbook! I know – peer pressure never ends! I also was new to the process – my daughter had never been in school before. And everyone just acted like it was something I was supposed to know/do. So I wrote my check…. not happily since I had just paid tuition for a school that was definitely more expensive than I thought preschools were!!!!! (I won’t name it – though I can say now that the year is done, that I LOVED the school & the teachers). But still… and extra $85 the 1st week??? Oh, I would also like to add that 2 emails were sent out after that meeting, requesting that those who hadn’t paid their dues yet, pay up! A little forceful… what if you simply didn’t have an extra $85? I guess you become the “bad mom”.
    So like Stacey, I am a little perplexed as to why I paid so much money for tuition, and was then also expected to fork over not only my “class dues”, but also a lot of cash for different things throughout the year (fundraisers every couple weeks for diff. school funds/scholarships , teacher luncheons, not to mention the requests for parents to donate snacks, wipes, supplies, etc.).
    I was especially shocked too, at the holidays to discover other parents bringing in individual gifts for each of the 3 teachers (I thought that’s what our “dues” were for?? – class gifts to each teacher) So I called my older sister, who lives in another state, for advice/insight. She has 2 older children (4th & 5th grades), and her answer to me was “welcome to the world of school” And she said “get a small gift for each teacher too – you don’t want to be the only one who doesn’t!” So I guess it’s a pretty common practice now everywhere.
    I know it’s not at all dictated by teachers themselves – it’s over-zealous moms that began it & now it’s snow-balled! Personally, I think teacher gifts should be decided on an individual basis. Each parent should be able to decide if they want to give something to their child’s teacher. And not every parent has the extra cash to spend on gifts either, so that should be taken into consideration by all those “class moms” when they make the other moms feel uncomfortable about contributing.
    Bottom line is that I did cave in to peer pressure, and I probably will again next year. But I also had my daughter make her own “Thank You” cards for each of her teachers this year… we spent alot of time on them. We let each teacher know what she had done for my daughter this year to make her feel special. Then I had my daughter hand deliver them. And I think to a teacher who is truly dedicated to the children, a gift/card like that will mean more than a cash class gift.

  6. Ick. Let me just say that I am SO GLAD that we chose the preschool we did. No one has made mention of a communal gift, nor has anyone seemed to reach for one. And the place we go to is in the middle range of cost. Phew. That’s one bullet dodged – because I’m sure I would have coughed up the cash as well.

  7. Wow, the tenor of this article seems unpleasant. Luckily for the author, it seems she doesn’t have a child with special needs. If she thinks spending the money on a general classroom staff is bothersome, she should try keeping up with the teams of therapists, behaviorists, evaluators and support staff that buttress the work of the teachers and aides in the special ed world. Personally, I wish that there was *more* that I could do for these individuals, not less.

  8. Unfortunately, MilaMoo, that’s where you are wrong. I do feel the team goes without recognition, and so I show them my appreciation with small gifts. But that said, I still feel that I’ll do my job & they can do their job & lets leave the presents out of it.

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