199. A Gift for the Teacher

It’s hard for a teacher to have a policy about accepting gifts from parents and children. On the one hand, teachers don’t want gifts to do some of the negative things gifts can do. They don’t want anyone to think they’re for sale – that good grades and preferential treatment go to the highest bidder. And they don’t want any other kind of competition, or the traumas that accompany it, to go on. No child should feel that appreciation of and love for the teacher has to be expressed through a gift.
On the other hand, gifts happen, and they sometimes say important things. A child spends an hour painstakingly drawing a picture for the teacher, hoping that the special feeling the child has can be communicated by the picture. Or by the doohickey the child made. I’ve sometimes received homemade doohickeys, and though I’ve often been at a loss to figure out what they were, I’ve responded gushingly – sometimes speechlessly (words would have failed me), but gushingly.
And there are the store-bought doohickeys. A “doohickey,” for those of you unfamiliar with the term, is a thing that may or may not have any particular purpose, but serves as a sentimental symbol. Both homemade and store-bought doohickeys may eventually end up in dumpsters, but not in the dumpster near the school, and the thought, which is what counts, never ends up in any dumpster.
Mugs deserve a category of their own. I have enough mugs to serve as many people as can comfortably fit in my apartment. When I have a big party, the World’s Greatest Teacher sits between My Favorite Teacher and A Teacher With Class, and occasionally sips some tea. And that’s after giving most of my mugs to other people over the years, and losing or breaking some. I have no illusions that I am, in fact, the best teacher in the world; often I see that a fourth grade teacher has gotten a similar mug after a child has had time to take me off the pedestal. I’m not at all cynical about all of this, but I know that feelings do have to adjust to make way for new feelings.
There’s one more category I can think of now. Some parents can afford, or buy whether or not they can afford, expensive gifts for teachers. When I’ve gotten those gifts – gift certificates, clothes, etc., I’ve sometimes temporarily forgotten that it’s the thought that counts. I’ve turned back into the child who got a bike for Hannukah, overflowing with gratitude, eager to get outside, cold and snow notwithstanding, and try the bike. I’ve usually recovered in time to remember to gush equally about the homemade doohickey.
It really is the thought that counts. Nowadays, I’m in the unusual position (unusual, at least in our society) of having just about everything I want. Children and parents still give me mugs and doohickeys. They remember the volunteers when they’re getting or making gifts. I hope that those of you who do decide to give gifts remember student teachers, volunteers, support staff, substitutes, etc. And I’ve given up on trying to figure out what the policy should be, or whether there should even be one.

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