A+ Advice for Parents

Think Creatively When Giving to Teachers at Holidays

Q: Our school district discourages holiday gifts to teachers and bans any gifts costing more than $50. I think the policy is very "Grinch-y." My daughter loves her teacher, and we want to give her a spa day certificate. Should we?

A: No. It's a nice idea, but it may cause discomfort for the teacher. Spa services are very personal. A mani-pedi may be on your Christmas list, but what if the teacher hates having her feet scrubbed?

There's the district ban to consider, too. Unless a spa day in your town costs less than $50, which is unlikely, you'll violate the policy and put the teacher in the position of explaining why she can't accept.

While gift bans are appealing -- especially as many families struggle with household budgets -- they can stifle kids' holiday spirits. "Good teachers are beloved and kids want to show their appreciation, so many schools encourage a class-wide effort. A parent collects from those who wish to contribute and chooses a gift all students can put their name on so that no one is left out," says Sharon Paul, a Massachusetts elementary teacher and mother of three.

What do teachers want? A-Plus Advice Teacher Board members offer Santa some ideas:

-- Gift cards that will help teachers buy materials for their classrooms. Teachers spend an average of $500 out of pocket for books, teaching resources and supplies, such as tissues. They'll appreciate gift cards to office supply stores, bookstores or big-box stores such as Target or Wal-Mart.

-- A donation of time or money to a teacher's favorite charity. Involve your kids; design gift certificates that kids fill out and decorate. For example, "The Rodriguez Family volunteers to work three hours at the Happy Tails Animal Shelter during Christmas break in Ms. Rauch's honor."

-- Show genuine expressions of appreciation. Create a personalized memory book from your daughter or the whole class. (Conspire with a teacher's aide to obtain class pictures.) Include quotes or drawings from students. Add photos of the year's highlights, such as the day they made rockets. No time to create a class memory book? Craft a handmade card that holds your daughter's heartfelt message.

-- Host a holiday appreciation lunch or tea. Many parent-teacher organizations organize a buffet in schools with restrictive gift policies. "It's a festive way to thank teachers," says Tim Sullivan, president of online resource PTO Today (ptotoday.com). If you have the time and budget, add gift bags for each faculty and staff member. Local businesses, such as bookstores, grocers and coffee shops, often wish to chip in with gift cards.

"Personal gifts are only appropriate if you know the teacher well and have a unique opportunity," says Paul. "One year my daughter's teacher got a puppy, so parents chipped in for a bed, chew toys and other things she'd need. It was a big hit, and the kids were very captivated by the puppy's growth."

(Do you have a question about your child's education? Email it to Leanna@aplusadvice.com. Leanna Landsmann is an education writer who began her career as a classroom teacher. She has served on education commissions, visited classrooms in 49 states to observe best practices, and founded Principal for a Day in New York City.)

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