DEAR MISS MANNERS: I teach high school drama and English. This past summer, I received wedding invitations from four of my former students. I responded that I would not be attending the weddings.
Quite frankly, I teach hundreds of students each year, and I receive multiple graduation, wedding and other types of invitations. While each student is special to me, my public school teacher salary is not generous enough to allow me the financial ability to send gifts to each occasion. Other than teaching them in a professional setting or working on a drama production, I have no other contact with the students.
When I returned for the fall semester, several parents of the former students each approached me separately and informed me how disappointed the former student was that I could not attend the wedding. The parent(s) further explained that they did not invite that many people to the wedding -- that I was considered "special" because I was invited (as opposed to other teachers), and therefore my presence was greatly missed.
I felt guilty after each conversation for not attending the wedding(s). I apologized profusely, explaining that my summer was very busy. However, I was too embarrassed to explain that I had been invited to several former students' weddings, but attended none of them, because I did not want to show up to the wedding empty-handed (carrying no gift).
What should I do at this point? Should I now purchase gifts for those students' whose weddings that I did not attend? What should I do in the future? I imagine that I am not the only school teacher who faces this problem every time graduation season arrives.
GENTLE READER: Could Miss Manners induce you to take just a minute out from feeling guilty and overwhelmed to feel flattered?
Your former students want you at the important occasions in their lives because you made a difference in their lives. Through sheer force of your teaching, you made a lasting impression on them.
Isn't that why you went into teaching?
This is not to say that you have to attend their functions. Unless the parents are unusually rude, they were only saying you were missed because they want you to know how much you mean to their children, and they share their illusion that you were as focused on each student individually as they all were on you.
All you need to do is to express your regret at not being able to attend, and deflect inquiry by expressing your good wishes. You should certainly not insult them by insinuating that you would not have been welcome unless you brought a present.
However, if you wish to attend, that matter of being "empty-handed" should not stop you. Presents are properly sent, not delivered (no matter how many of your students are ignorant of this rule), and the best one from you would be a letter of praise at their achievements, if you can manage it, and perhaps an inscribed book (paper or second-hand will do) which, as it would be carrying a favorite teacher's recommendation, should be as precious as any silver or electronics they may receive.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: My boyfriend and I have a disagreement about whether it's proper when we finish eating at a restaurant for him to stack up the dishes. I have told him it's the waitress' responsibility. Who's right?
GENTLE READER: Neither of you. It is the waitress's job to clear the table properly, and a good one would be just as horrified as Miss Manners at dishes being stacked.