Get a Better Handle on Student Gifts

Here’s how to channel your students’ generosity toward the greater good.

Woman in a red shirt opening a present wrapped with a red bow

by NEA Member Benefits

While you adore the thoughts behind the gifts you receive from students around the holidays and the end of the year, after a few years in the classroom, the mugs—though you appreciate every one of them—start to pile up and you find yourself wanting to encourage a better way to channel your students’ generosity. With help from these five tips, you can do just that while avoiding gift awkwardness.

1. Take preemptive gift action

Before you get too deep into the school year, reach out to your students’ parents and relay your gift wishes, whatever they may be. You can discourage them altogether or you could offer ideas such as local donations to charity, specific needs for your classroom or donations to the school. By being upfront and suggesting these kinds of gift ideas, you’ll reduce the “stuff” you’ll get, take some stress off of your students' parents and you could even benefit a good cause or two.

2. Announce that you’ll open gifts in private

If you’re likely to have a classroom party before the holiday break or at the end of the school year, 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. Second, if you have any students who didn’t bring a gift (for whatever reason), you won’t risk them feeling sad by making a big deal about the gifts you did receive.

3. Write thank-you notes promptly

By writing thank-you notes, you set a good example for your students. Besides, you’re bound to get at least one box of note cards as a gift, right? You might as well put them to good use.

4. Do what you wish with the gifts you do receive

You are under no obligation to actually use the gifts you get. Regift when it makes sense and there’s no need to feel shy about doing it. Another option: Donate items to charity. What you should not do is display any gifts you received from students in your classroom. Some children may not be able to afford to give you a gift or others may not participate in holidays. Keeping your gifts at home helps avoid any awkwardness.

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 enjoy them.”

5. Nip the problem in the bud early next year

Address your feelings about gifts at your back-to-school night next year. As we mention above, you can make classroom-oriented gift suggestions or 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 gifts, we know all are appreciated and every thank you from a student is cherished. But from a practical standpoint, it can be better to be proactive than to be inundated with stuff.