Giving a gift to a teacher used to be easy: come June, there would be a scented candle, a mug or box of chocolates for the person who dedicated her time to keeping your kid on track during the school year. But now that kids have multiple teachers, sports coaches and music teachers, how do you decide who gets a gift? What do teachers actually like to get? And, how much money should you spend when you see some parents treating teacher gifts as a competitive sport?
Nadia Pearson, a drama teacher at Springdale Elementary in Dollard des Ormeaux, sympathizes with parents struggling to decide where to draw the line since most kids are surrounded by homeroom teachers, daycare and resource educators, even bus drivers and countless other staff who play an important role in their lives. “There are many resource teachers who don’t get gifts, but we don’t take it personally — you can’t give to everybody,” says Pearson. “If I were a parent, I wouldn’t know where to stop.”
Her words of wisdom? Simple gifts will be most appreciated. “The gifts that mean the most are cards from parents and kids with a personal note, or a gift from a kid that incorporates a connection we had throughout the year,” she says. To this day, Pearson keeps a painting a student made for her hanging on her wall.
There are plenty of teachers who see helping students to learn as the best present of all. Deeni Simon, a substitute teacher for the Lester B. Pearson School Board says, “To me, a piece of paper folded in half with something they write is more meaningful than a gift. If they do well in my class, that’s reward enough.”
Parents should also avoid giving gifts that might make a teacher feel ill at ease because of the money involved. Peter McKelvie, executive assistant at the Montreal Teachers Association, recalls that a teacher recently told him she’d been given a one-week cruise. “This teacher needed reassuring it was an inappropriate gift,” he says. The teacher declined to take it.
While generic gifts like candy and coffee mugs are usually considered safe, an overabundance of them can still make recipients feel like they are drowning in not-so-useful items, no matter how much they appreciate the thought and effort put into purchasing the gift. As one secretary at a private elementary school on the West Island put it, “I get chocolate, chocolate, chocolate, chocolate, and lotions and lotions and bath stuff and bath stuff!”
Peter Mercuri, a former teacher and the chair of EMSB’s parents’ committee, has used his own experience on the receiving end of classroom presents to shape his approach to teacher gifts. “I received my fair share of mugs,” he says, adding, “I always found a place for them. A lot of them ended up at my mom’s place, and sometimes, I’d use one as a flower pot.”
These days, Mercuri and his wife put a lot of effort into choosing presents for teachers. “Teachers need to feel that they mean the world to someone,” he says. So Mercuri and his wife try to carefully match the gift to the teacher. Mercuri also sees benefits in having his children show their appreciation. “Our 6-year-old was on top of the world when she could give her teacher a gift bag. She came back home smiling from ear to ear and said ‘I was a big girl!’”
Of course, parents must also consider finances and personal ideas about gift giving. Every family faces a different economic situation and not everyone believes in giving gifts to teachers. Cheryl Grant, a mother of two young boys, admits that she definitely feels pressure. “Seeing other parents or kids arriving at school with elaborate gift bags, and now with social media, people post pictures of the ‘great gifts’ they bought. My kids are young, but I already see the competition,” Grant says.
Who gets a gift should really depend both on a family’s economic situation and the level of their interaction with your children. Decide where to draw the line, make a budget and stick to it. If your children are willing to write their own notes or make gifts, that’s great. But if you’re going shopping, the teachers we interviewed mentioned particular fondness for items like bookstore certificates, hand-made items, and Tim Hortons or Starbucks gift cards. Also group gifts, like a day at the spa or a certificate for the mall, are appropriate when they come from multiple contributors. Charities like UNICEF and Plan Canada offer education-themed gifts that can be made in the name of a favorite teacher or teachers. And a batch of homemade cookies is a simple way to include many of your child’s teachers and aides without overspending.