Okay, class, time for a math quiz.
Take your child’s attitude. Multiply it by 24 students. Subtract 11 weeks of summer vacation, but add $5.3 billion in education budget cuts.
That’s what our kids’ teachers cope with daily, from the second their coffee kicks in to the moment the blessed bell rings at 3 o’clock. And we parents are grateful, of course we are. As the school year ends, though, it’s hard to know how to express that gratitude. Or, frankly, how to wrap it.
Some families bake cookies to show thanks. Others give potted plants, scented candles, or handmade greeting cards. I’ve heard of parents bestowing teachers with cashmere robes, Tiffany necklaces, and even $300 cash.
“Are we supposed to be supplementing their income because they are ridiculously underpaid?” asked a mother I know, whose confusion echoes my own. “Or is it purely a token of appreciation, in which case, should it come from the child or the parent?”
So I did what I’d be too ashamed to do without the defensible guise of “column research.” I asked teachers what they really want. And some of their answers surprised me.
“Most teachers go in on weekends, bring work home, work on vacations, and work before and after school just to get it all done,” said a kindergarten teacher I know. “They definitely deserve a little something to say, ‘thank you for caring enough about my kid to make a difference.'” Her favorite gifts — no kidding — are the personal notes and cards.
In fact, lots of teachers treasure the sentimental mementos most. I know a high-school drama teacher who once received VIP Cirque du Soleil tickets from one family. Still, her all-time favorite was a glass jar full of messages written by her students in tribute to her. She keeps it on her desk.
But teachers are pragmatic, too, and gift cards to movie theaters, grocers, book stores, and coffee shops can make a teacher “woo hoo!” in a way that a shiny apple, well, really never could. “I stock up on my gift cards for the next six months, until Christmas gift time!” admited a fifth-grade teacher, who realizes she sounds spoiled but considers this supplemental income to be “hazard pay.”
“No cheap candy,” begged one teacher. “And no mugs, please. Ever go to thrift stores and see those rows of old mugs? They all came from elementary school teachers.”
And you might want to re-think that flowery shower gel, too. “Taking a bath with products a kid has given me seems a little strange and creeps me out,” confessed a second-grade teacher. “I usually re-gift those.”
“For me,” added another friend and mother of three, “the ideal gift is a huge gift certificate to someplace I love from the entire class plus lots of silly little home-made trinkets from each child reminding me of our year together: a sweet card, a photo, a tissue-paper flower. Yes, it’s true, I often throw them away within days of receiving them, but the thought most definitely counts.”
Teachers are also crazy-generous when it comes to thanking their own children’s teachers. “I always give an additional gift after contributing to the class gift, as well,” said one. “It’s like going back and tipping the waiter when you know your grandma short-changed him.”
One friend hosted a dinner at her house for all her kids’ teachers, so the kids could have a chance to serve them for a change. Another ensured that her kids’ gift-giving tradition didn’t end at elementary school, as it often does. “I coerced them into bringing gifts to their favorite high-school teachers,” she said, “although they said it was extremely embarrassing.”