Well, that may be just about the longest blog post title I’ve written on this blog. Maybe not. I haven’t actually gone back to look at all of them to see. Oh well. I digress before I even start.
A teacher friend of mine from Champaign shared a blog post/article this morning on Facebook. She was not sharing it because she agreed with it, though. She shared it because it upset her and she wanted to know what her other teacher friends thought. All of us have agreed: it is terrible.
Two or three times a year, someone on the Internet writes a post about giving gifts to teachers that is trying to be helpful. I try to look at them in the best possible light and I try to remember that the authors really are trying to be helpful. Unfortunately, they also always make me feel incredibly uncomfortable, especially when the author prefaces her post by saying, “I am a teacher, so I know.” The articles are not the same, but they have the same message: Don’t buy this gift or that for a teacher. She won’t really like. He won’t want to keep it. She will smile and accept it and throw it in the trash. He would rather you gave him something else.
It makes me sad.
Very, very sad.
You see, I was one of those kids who each year gave his teachers the same gift: a coffee mug with some chocolates inside and a thank you note. I was one of those kids that came from a large family (five older brothers and two younger sisters) and so many of my teachers had taught many Valencic children over the year. And I was one of those kids that came from a family that was not wealthy. In all honesty, we were somewhere between poverty and lower middle class. I don’t write that in an effort to shame my parents. I don’t write that to garner sympathy. I write it because it was the reality of my childhood, but it was a reality that I was mostly unaware of. My parents always made sure we had life’s essentials: food, shelter, clothing, love, and books. But because of our financial situation and because of the size of my family, it wasn’t feasible to provide costly gifts for all of those teachers. But my parents wanted to make sure that we knew that our teachers were important, and gifts around the holiday season were one way of doing that.
So when I see a blog post that tells parents to stop giving coffee cups, chocolates, homemade treats, lotions, soaps, ornaments, knickknacks, flowers, plants, etc. I can’t stay silent. I can’t let my lack of a voice be a passive consent to such words. So I am writing a rare weekend blog post, writing much more personally than I usually do here, and asking all parents to please, please, please, please ignore those posts. Don’t believe the person who says the teacher doesn’t appreciate the gift. Don’t buy into the notion that there are “right” and “wrong” gifts for a teacher. And please, please, please, please, please do not feel like you are obligated to purchase, make, or send a gift for your child’s teacher. Once something is an obligation, it is no longer a gift; it is tribute. And that is the last thing I want any child or parent to feel that they have to provide.
I realise I have only been teaching professionally for seven years and that I am only in my fourth year teaching full time. I realise that teachers who have taught for decades have probably been given more gifts than they have room to store them. But I talked to some of these teachers and I read their comments on my friend’s initial post on Facebook. Here is what these teachers and retired teachers had to say about gifts:
“I am truly appreciative of every single GIFT I receive. I still have the coffee cup Lawrence gave me 15 years ago and I think of his precious face every time I use it!!!”
“One of my most challenging students one year gave me a simple pin that he helped make. It said “Teachers Have Class!” The pin part broke off so I turned it into a magnet. Every time I look at it, I think about that student. It doesn’t matter that I have pins and magnets already; it matters that it came from him. He was so proud of it!”
“I put a Christmas ornament on the tree this year that is 26 years old from a student in my first class.”
“A little girl in my very first class made me an apple ornament for my tree. That was back in 1978. Every year when I hang that ornament I think about her. I didn’t always keep all the gifts I received over the years (I could have opened an Avon store), but I treasure the memory and the thought behind every single one of them. Being a support staff teacher I never received as many gifts as regular classroom teachers but I never scoffed at any. The thought behind every gift always made me smile and I was always touched that students and their parents thought of me. Particularly with parents who couldn’t afford to give me gifts, the fact that they did was all the more touching.”
And the personal memory that prompted me to write this: “I have one gift that I got from a student that always makes me smile because of the presentation. He shuffled in with his head down, as was his usual method, handed me a package without looking at me, and said, “My mom made me give this to you.” It was a shirt being sold online that I had seen and shared on Facebook. I see this student now each morning as he walks to the middle school, head held high, laughing and talking with friends, and always stopping to say hello to me as I am working the car drop-off. Such a change in such a short period of time!”
So during this holiday season, as the end of the first semester quickly approaches, if you feel the need to give a gift, if you or your child saw something and thought, “Wow, I bet Mr. Valencic would love that!” and you want to give it as a gift, go ahead and do so. I will graciously and grateful accept with all sincerity. I know what such gifts truly mean and what they are truly worth.