Teachers don’t need gifts. Don’t expect them. Can’t expect them, even.
But folks wondering what to give that special educator who helps their children learn, succeed and otherwise enjoy their time in school might want to consider some advice from Kendra Metz, a teacher in the Lawrence school district for the past 18 years.
“The one gift that means the most to me from students and parents is a thoughtful thank-you note that tells me specifically what I did to make an impression,” said Metz, honored last month as the district’s 2011 Master Teacher of the Year.
But if a student or parent of a student wants to buy a gift for a teacher — a practice officially “discouraged” under district policy — there are rules to follow.
“Staff members are prohibited from receiving gifts of substantial value from vendors, salesmen or other such representatives,” said David Cunningham, the district’s director for legal services, human resources and policy. “At the parent level, it’s not uncommon for kids to bring baked goods or token types of gifts to a teacher, whether that’s in a birthday or holiday time frame.”
And that’s fine, Cunningham said, as long as teachers don’t expect them and the gifts themselves amount to “insignificant dollar value” or less.
“We don’t want any parents going out and buying anything of substantial value to give to the teacher,” Cunningham said. “That would be inappropriate.”
Some schools encourage gift-givers to turn their attention toward the classrooms themselves. At Sunset Hill School, for example, PTO members gathered lists of needed items from teachers, then split the needs up into gift tags posted on a bulletin board inside the main entrance of the school, 901 Schwarz Road.
Giving paper or paper towels or something else a class might be able to use is permissible because such gifts do not become property of the teacher, Cunningham said. The materials go to the school and, by extension, the district.
“It’s a mechanism that allows people to provide needed supplies to the school,” he said.
Metz acknowledges that “funky pens” or “colorful office supplies” can be useful, and pictures of students — particularly ones that include the teacher — can be fun.
But the best gifts, she said, are those that don’t cost a dime.
A written note, after all, stands the test of time.
“I keep them, as many teachers do, in a special place in my classroom,” Metz said. “I still have notes from kids who are now adults and have their own families, and I read them once in a while, so these gifts have taken up little space and yet have kept on giving for years.”
Cunningham couldn’t agree more: “It’s a child doing something of significance, but it’s of insignificant dollar value.”