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!