My Gratitude Attitude

And so we come to the dangerous time, the inevitable, end-of-the-year time when students start getting ideas … How did I not see this coming?  While it’s true that I haven’t had to worry about it much these last few years, December — with it’s outpouring of chocolates and earrings — should have tipped me off.  Yet somehow it didn’t occur to me that I’d need to worry about it now.

I am talking about presents.  About students wanting to give their teachers gifts.

I don’t want my students to spend their money on me.  Of course that is in part because most of them don’t have much money.  But even if they had plenty, they shouldn’t be spending it on me.  I have told them not to buy me anything.  But I know they will.

One of my co-workers struggles mightily with this.  She came to me at the end of my first year on the job, asking me to please verify that in fact it is against our organization’s policy for her to accept gifts.  Well, it’s true that we can’t take gifts from vendors, that we can’t take gifts from the families of patients (parent org is a hospital), but our students don’t fit into either of those categories.

Her students gave her money, and she used it to buy them presents.  The students were angry.  They bought her gifts and she tried to give them back.  The students were insulted.  She tried to pretend the gifts didn’t exist, leaving a big shopping bag full of them in my office and ‘forgetting’ it was there.  No dice.

I understand and that giving gifts to the teacher as a gesture of gratitude is very important in many cultures, and many of our students — even in our Basic Ed and GED classes — are from countries other than the US.  So the gift-giving makes sense to me as much as it troubles. me.

So all these years I’ve been telling the teachers to discourage extravagance … and then to just accept with grace. 

But now I have this class, and they want to give me gifts, and I’ll be really upset if they do.

Today they were peppering me with questions: What about jewelry?  What about a book?  What about strawberries? (yes, really, strawberries) We could get you music.  We could get you movie tickets.

“How about Barack Obama?” my lovely Brazilian students says.

(Internal monologue: Is she saying she’ll give me the president as a present?  That’s a little crazy, but hey, maybe I should accept.  I don’t really want to fight Michelle — because there’s no question but that she would win — but we’re talking fantasy here, so why not?)

“Ok.  Yes,” I tell her.  “Him you could give me.  That’s the only present I’m willing to accept.”

Yeah.  We’ll see how this plays out next month.  When I see the bread-box-sized gift bag, I’ll know for sure who’s not inside!


14 thoughts on “My Gratitude Attitude

  1. molly

    I like the idea of strawberries, unless you’re not a fan of strawberries.
    It’s all about wanting to express their understandably huge gratitude, and that is really nice. I understand them wanting to give you something really classy and cool.
    It’s nice you were able to talk to them about it. I think talking about it is the most important part.


    1. I love strawberries! It just struck me as such an interesting direction to take the questions. I agree that talking about it is important. As is the gracious and humble acceptance of whatever they do, in the end, decide to give. At my old job we had one really awful teacher who would tell her students at the start of the year exactly what expensive gift she wanted them to give her. Her last year there, she asked for a 35mm camera! She felt completely justified in making a specific request, said that they were going to spend money on her anyway, so why shouldn’t she something she wanted? I can’t really articulate how awful I thought she was to take advantage of her students in that way.


  2. I’m on the other side of this equation, and we do struggle a bit with what’s appropriate. I usually go with a Borders gift card for the primary teachers and home-baked goodies for the aides, monitors, specials teachers, and bus drivers.

    And I agree, accepting with grace is always the best approach.


    1. Oh, I’m on that side of the equation, too, Ruth. I need to figure out what we can afford to give to the teachers and the program aides and everyone else who works with our program. Good luck as you try to figure it out. I like the cookies idea. I gave cookies at Christmas, and they went over quite well. Maybe it’s time to start baking again!


  3. GriotGirl,

    I know it’s hard, but remember like you said, they want to express their gratitude. I personally believe that even those with less need to feel they are able to give so receive it with the same love it was given. And the money: help them spend little. Go on about really wanting a particular used book you want because you like the cover art. Tell them you really like little things that you love having but never bother buying yourself like note cards and bookmarks. In other words, ask for things that don’t cost money but make a big deal about how much you like them.


  4. I got my first end of the year gift today from a student who is leaving for summer vacation a bit early. It is a sterling silver turtle paper weight. I love it. Perhaps it was a bit expensive, but these parents can afford it, and I am most definitely worth it:)


    1. Oh, don’t get me started about some of the wacky gifts I’ve seen students give! (I feel another post coming on …) Your turtle, however, sounds adorable. And I’ve no doubt but that you’re worth it!


    1. Oh, we will definitely have a year-end party — both in my class and with the whole school. I think I will stress again how I feel about them buying me presents … and then take Susan’s idea of steering them toward inexpensive presents.


  5. I really like Susan’s idea and strawberries are delicious. As for whether you could take Michelle Obama? Yeah, probably not (not many of us could *g*) but in a world where a student could package up the president to give as a gift you never know.


    1. I, too, like the idea of steering them toward more affordable gifts. I’m going to take advantage of our class party and use it as a way to give them something, too.


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