Tuesday, May 27, 2008


I have been talking a lot about the end of school recently because for me it really is a major event, and I'm sure that a lot of you can sympathize. All you angels who home school, what can I say except clearly, compared to you, I am absolutely inadequate- but really, is that news?

In any case, one of "rituals", at the end of school every year is that the a mom or two from each class attempt to organize a "class gift" from the students of the class to the teacher. In the years that my children have been going to this school ( my oldest has been there for eight years), this process has varied, with some things remaining constant. Generally speaking, what happens is that one or two moms get together, come up with what they believe is an appropriate amount for each family to contribute, decide what gift will be purchased with that money, typically it is a gift card or cards of some sort, and then they send out a typewritten letter to each family, which they put in your child's bookbag. You then can decide, whether to return the envelope with $$$ to contribute to the gift, or you can not contribute.

The gift. is. optional. In the same way that giving your mother-in-law a Christmas gift is optional.

The first year, I did not contribute. I wasn't very fond of my daughter's first grade teacher, who told me in the first few weeks of school, that no she could do nothing to prevent my daughter from being pushed on the playground by her classmate. This is private school people! My daughter was in a class of thirteen children. This woman had to watch thirteen children, and she couldn't, after the problem was brought to her attention, be bothered to maybe say, if I see anything, I will address it. No, instead, she said "there is nothing that I can do." Fabulous effort. And this was her attitude about everything. She was just nasty, never smiled, and so when they came a collecting for her gift, I declined to give. Instead I bought a five dollar coffee mug with candy, and even that pained me.

Of course, what I didn't know was that during class time, that I was paying for, some of the mothers organizing the gift came in and had the kids sign the card for this teacher. My child, naturally, was not allowed to sign the card, because I didn't contribute. Then they presented the gift to her, and of course, my child felt left out. All afternoon, I had to hear about how she was the only child in her class, and how she wasn't allowed to the sign the card, and all I could think was I should have just given the damn $15 bucks so that bitch could have a gourmet dinner and could buy some freakin books at Barnes and Noble.

From then on, I always gave. Not always happily, but I gave nonetheless. And most times, I gave double, because I subscribe to the notion that it should be a gift from MY CHILD to the teacher. I know teachers get a lot of shitty presents, things they don't want or need, but last time I checked people don't become teachers for the gifts. And I know that teachers are underpaid,and for this reason, they should be shown appreciation and gratitude, but is it my job to make up for their salary? I don't know.

This year, my daughter in pre-k got a letter asking for $50, which is double the normal amount per teacher. Granted it covers gifts for the teacher in her class, the teacher's aide in her class, and the teacher and aide in the other section. The aide in the other section is leaving, so she gets $20 allocated to her gift; while the others get $10. Why am I giving money to teachers who don't even teach my child? And should I be giving more money to the teacher's aide in the other class than I give to my own child's primary teacher? Why am I giving the same amount of money to my child's teacher that I am giving to the other teacher? To me, it doesn't make sense. Although the letter reads, " a consensus has been reached" , no mom that I have asked was asked about the gift prior to the letter being issued by one mom from one of the two sections. The letter goes
on to say, "here's the deal" it says, followed by "this is optional, but we hope that you can all help out."

I spoke to a couple of the other moms about this at Field day, and it became apparent that no one was willing to rock the boat, even if they felt $50 was a little much to ask. One mom said, well I guess you can always not give...

Well, as I said before, when I didn't give in First grade it was disastrous. Last week, there was also a lot of gossip surrounding a mom in the first grade who wanted everyone to contribute $5. "That is so cheap" another mother told me. That mom took the letters out of the bookbags when she found out the amount, and rewrote them, and then re packed them in the bookbags. I don't know, but it seems wrong to me that random mothers are rifling through bookbags of children who are not their own.

There are consequences to not giving.

So what's a mom to do. On the one hand, I feel this entire "gift" thing has absolutely gotten out of hand. Why should one mom tell every other mom how much to spend, on what, and for whom. When I went to Montessori school many moons ago, Teachers were not allowed to accept gifts. Not potted plants or boxes of candy. It was viewed as unethical. I am certainly of the belief that a potted plant, or even a combined gift of a dinner certificate is not out of the realm of appropriateness, but in one first grade class, a mother purchased a twelve hundred dollar bracelet for the group gift for the teacher , at a discount it came to 500, which wound up being 22 a family. Again, I think, personally, this is in bad taste, and not appropriate. And I have to question the motive of this woman making such an elaborate purchase for teacher, and I have to wonder is it reasonable that she make all the other parents contribute to this? Should the school step in and say that group gifts can not be organized in school, presented during school time ( by mothers, not by children), and that cards may not be passed around in the classroom unless every one can sign?

Should I shut my mouth again, pay my money, and thank god summer is here? Or should I CHOOSE not to pay in which case: my children will be pariahs; the teachers will think me cheap and ungrateful; and the other mommies will not talk to me on the playground? What's a girl to do?

On a side note, when did it become acceptable for people to be openly ungrateful about gifts. I mean I have no problem per se with registries, gifts cards; etc., but if Aunt Ethel wants to knit you a pot holder, or if you want your kid to help bake banana bread for her teacher's gift, shouldn't the recipient still be grateful? What's with all this, oh you can't buy anybody a present anymore for fear they won't like it. To me, a gift is about the thought, and if you really appreciate the person's thought, you'll appreciate the gift. You'll like what you don't like or you'll give the gift to someone else who will like it, happy in the knowledge that you were remembered, appreciated, loved. Gifts should be given and accepted freely, in my opinion, but I'd love to know what others think. Feel free to leave comments.


motherbumper said...

This just makes my head spin. That's it, this is just one more reason for us to homeschool (which I used to say in jest but now...). Back in my day, we never gifted teachers at our school unless they were leaving or retiring. I wish I had advice but you covered the approach I would have taken which was not contribute or suggest nixing the group gift. I find it so hard to believe the nerve of that mom who wouldn't let your child sign the card. How cold. How immature. How much it makes me want to go leave flaming poo on her doorstep. Hmmmm maybe it will be homeschool for wee bumper.

A Mom Two Boys said...

Ooohhhh...is this what I have to look forward to? And if you homeschool do you kids have to get you a present? Cause that would be awesome.

And I think a gift is a gift. It's the thought that counts...or at least it should be. :0)

mommastantrum said...

We haven't encountered this yet. I am hoping that we don't. (You know because we are "special") But who knows.

I think that if you like the teacher, give them a small gift. If not, then you shouldn't be obligated. I wonder if it does indeed violate some sort of ethics codes...

But I am all suspicious like that.