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Get a Better Handle on Student Gifts

It’s hard to smile every time you get a “World’s Best Teacher” mug, but it’s easy to put students’ generosity to better use.

As the end of the year approaches, parents write to my website for advice about what to get for their children’s teachers. But what about the issues that educators like you face when those apple-themed mugs, pencils and pins inevitably start to roll in?

These five tips can help you avoid gift awkwardness this holiday season.

Take pre-emptive gift action

Long ago, at my daughter’s first-grade back-to-school night, her teacher mentioned that she appreciated people’s desire to give her holiday gifts in her 20-plus years as a teacher, but she said she really had everything she needed. “However, what we could use,” she added, “are new board games for the classroom to use during indoor recess.”

Before we get too deep into the holiday season, reach out to your students’ parents and relay your holiday gift wishes, whatever they may be. One sixth-grade teacher I know suggested that parents either make a donation to the student council’s food drive in her name or that they do an adopt-a-child program on her behalf instead of giving her a traditional teacher gift.

By suggesting these kinds of gift ideas, you’ll reduce the “stuff” you’ll get, and you’ll benefit a good cause.

Announce that you’ll open gifts in private

You’ll likely have a classroom party before the holiday break, so you should let students know that you won’t be opening gifts at the party. This helps in two ways: First, if you don’t have a great poker face, you won’t have to worry about revealing your true feelings about yet another coffee mug with “World’s Greatest Teacher,” “World’s Greatest Bus Driver,” etc., on it.

Second, if you have any students who didn’t bring a gift (for whatever reason), you won’t risk making them feel sad by making a big deal about the gifts you did receive.

Write thank-you notes promptly

I have two daughters, and I was always impressed by their teachers’ manners. Every teacher promptly sent a handwritten thank-you note after receiving a gift. By writing thank-you notes, you set a good example for your students. Besides, you’re bound to get at least one box of notecards as a gift, right? You might as well put them to good use.

Do what you wish with gifts you don’t want

News flash: You are under no obligation to actually use the gifts you get. I’m a huge proponent of regifting when necessary, and you shouldn’t feel shy about doing it. Another option: Donate items to charity.

What you should not do is display any gifts you received from students. Some children in your school perhaps can’t afford to give you a gift, and you don’t want to make them feel bad by showing off the nice gifts you did get.

Have a boilerplate response at the ready in case any of your students ask follow-up questions about the gifts they gave to you. You can say something like, “Oh, I took them home to save for a special occasion.”

Nip the problem in the bud early next year

Take a page from my daughter’s first-grade teacher: Address your feelings about teacher gifts at back-to-school night next year. You can make a classroom-oriented gift suggestion like she did or even remark on any good causes you support so parents can make a donation in your name if they’d like to do so.

Bottom line: When it comes to teacher gifts, it’s better to be proactive than to be inundated with stuff you neither want nor need. Happy holidays!


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