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The spirit of giving (too much?)

12.07.2010

in Uncategorized

Years ago, I attended a friend’s wedding that had lots of elements of questionable taste. One of them: The wedding invitation. Tucked inside was a note reading, “Because we are blessed to have everything we need, in lieu of gifts please make a donation to our favorite charities X or Y. Make the checks payable to us and we will distribute the money evenly.”

The X charity wasn’t a charity I could support and the Y charity wasn’t actually a charity. Let’s just say, imagine being asked to donate to your friend’s Shaman’s non-accredited healing fund. Something just like that.

And yes, this was in L.A.

I posed the issue to Randy Cohen, otherwise known as The Ethicist. He wrote back with wonderfully astute (and humorous) advice. Something along the lines of A gift is just that–a gift–and not an entrance fee. You are welcome to give as you please, whether you give to one charity, both charities, neither, or give your friends a pony.

This week I kind of felt the same way again, as an email arrived asking for a donation towards our preschool teachers’ class gift. The gift is optional, as always, but the request is for nearly three times the amount we’ve been asked for in the past.

Oh, and the children are in school 7 hours a week.

I’m a big overtipper. And overgifter. I love giving me some gifts. And I love these teachers beyond anything you could imagine–I’ve already been thinking of what special thing the children can do for them (along with a generous gift certificate of course), because Sage simply adores them. But some special thing in the normal range. Not the Whee! The Economy’s Back So Let’s Go Crazy! range.

So I wrote back to the class mom. Something along the lines of gee, that seems awfully high…

It seemed the right thing to do last night. But I woke up this morning all sweaty and anxious and tinged with regret.

Oh God, I’m That Mom now. I’m the asshole.

(Not that the school didn’t stamp that label on my permanent record a full year ago. But still.)

I guess the issue isn’t whether we can afford it but whether we all can afford it. And whether it’s appropriate. Maybe I’m speaking for some other mom in the classroom–one I still don’t know–one who doesn’t have a hedge fund husband or a second house in the Hamptons or wads of cash lying around in the crevices of her Roche-Bobois couch. There was a time not so long ago that I dreaded birthday party invitations, because of the expense of buying a $10 gift each week. Even even as we rebuild, I still have that recession mentality left in me. I can’t be alone here, even in fancy Brooklyn.

I don’t want to do less for these wonderful teachers than they deserve. If it were up to me, they’d get a 100% pay raise and a $500 gift certificate, a flat-screen TV, a Teacher’s Day Parade, and that pony that Randy mentioned.

How would you handle it?

73 shards of brilliance… read them below or add one

Adventures In Babywearing December 7, 2010 at 1:10 pm

I saw your tweet and I think that is just, such a surprising amount. Honestly, we don't even spend that much on my family as a WHOLE! But, maybe others are a little late to jump on board what the real meaning of giving is.

We usually give cookies and maybe? A $5 Starbucks gift card to my boys' main teachers. You know what? That is a LOT for us.

I can't imagine being asked to give more, I would have to say no and I wouldn't feel like an asshole. I think the people asking are the ones more fitting for that name.

What is this teaching the kids, anyway?

Steph

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Susan December 7, 2010 at 1:11 pm

I was in that position last year. I just replied that as I had 3 kids with multiple teachers/scout leaders/music instructors etc. that the amount requested was beyond my budget so I'd be doing my own thing. I got a nice note back from the mom organizing that she totally understood and not to fret. I'd take that advice – Don't fret!

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Boston Mamas December 7, 2010 at 1:33 pm

We live in a very diverse community — both ethnic- and socioeconomic-wise. One thing I have always been impressed with is the sensitivity to that via the school community. Any time we receive an ask for something like this, it's a “pay what you're comfortable with” (if at all) type of thing not a fixed request. I always put in too much (probably old baggage here), but people just do what they can.

I wouldn't sweat it — put in what you feel comfortable with…if you're feeling this way I'm sure others are as well.

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fer December 7, 2010 at 1:35 pm

I would have done what you did, and felt how you did, all sweaty and stuff. Someone needs to raise the question, and after a friend of mine did at her kids' preschool, they created some guidelines so classrooms weren't one-upping others in some crazy (and costly) appreciation game.

We have to keep the teachers in mind, here, too…there's generous and appreciative, and then there's over the top and embarrassing…we never want the receiving end of a well-meaning gift to feel beholden, bribed, indebted or overwhelmed.

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Kathy (p/t writer, f/t mom) December 7, 2010 at 1:40 pm

Optional means optional in print only; the control moms are keeping score make no mistake about it. The thing to do is stop caring. Screw 'em. Send in a token gift if you want to, been doing it forever (oldest in college, youngest 5th grade). Teachers aren't keeping score. And for the record, they want cookies (or wine). Serious.

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Dana December 7, 2010 at 1:46 pm

That's a bit much, agreed. Don't you wonder what on earth people are thinking. Last year, a group here gave the preschool teacher a leather Cartier agenda — she's a nun. Can't wait to see what they come up with this year!

As a teacher, I'm here to tell you that we are not keeping score. We DO like cookies (and fudge) and wine and we don't expect anything from anyone. Nobody wants a “token” gift, though. A card with a meaningful hand written note is a great idea.

Just my 2 cents. . .

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Amanda December 7, 2010 at 2:01 pm

I just think it's tragic that we have as a society forgotten how to trust that there is honor without expense.

I have a friend who consistently brings unexpected gifts for our daughters on their birthdays or holidays. They are never extravagant in cost, but oh the precision of just-rightness is humbling.

If I could do one thing it would be to lift the fog that hangs between our mechanical reactions (must do this, you have to do that) and the clarity that is giving something to someone to demonstrate that you care about them—who they are and how they have been a part of your life. If you don't feel those things, than why exactly are you giving?

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Dana S. December 7, 2010 at 2:10 pm

Because I have this compulsion to make things, I bail on the gift card and hunker down with my sewing machine for a couple of days. I do like the wine idea though – anyone that spends that much time with all those small children could use some wine!

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Anonymous December 7, 2010 at 2:23 pm

The Cartier-agenda-to-a-nun comment made me laugh out loud. We have kids that have been in private school (the teacher's Wish List contained things like a videocamera for the classroom) and now in public magnet school (wish list now contains items like hand sanitizer, pipe cleaners & glitter glue). The private school had the ask-for-this-amount structure, allegedly in order to equalize class gifts acroiss the grade levels, but really, when you get that e-mail asking for X and you'd planned to give much less, what's to be done? I agree that you're representing the feelings of a portion of the class families when you raise your voice, and that's important to do. Now that you've made the stand (and the other families thank you for it), hold your ground! Either donate tot he class gift what you think is reasonable, OR do you own thing. To give the requested amount after raising the issue undermines what you said, and is likely to confuse the room mom, as it sends a mixed message.
We all should do what we can manage. Teachers are such a significant influence on our children, but bet they want what we ALL do–something heartfelt and well-thought-out (a gift card to somewhere they've indicated they shop), rather than something that is ill-considered (Cartier agenda!!) or makes them feel wierd (here's a flat screen!).
Godo luck. happy holiays!

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Crabby Apple Seed: December 7, 2010 at 2:25 pm

I just followed one of the comments to your tweet about the amt requested.

that is too. much. money. what on earth are they planning on buying for the teacher?! goodness.

The sad thing is, sometimes when you're not in a position to give that kind of money, that's when you feel the most self-conscious about saying no:( it seems unfair to even ask for that much.

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Mom101 December 7, 2010 at 2:44 pm

To be clear, that tweet referenced the amount per family, not per teacher. The per teacher amount is the amount we generally spend on all the teachers combined, however.

You are all making me feel so much better. Thank you.

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Shannon December 7, 2010 at 2:44 pm

I'm with you. I really like choosing (or making) a more personal gift for my kids' teachers. And if that means it's also less expensive, even better. I know some people are really into the group gift and I can see the reasons why they are. But it's just not for me most of the time. So sometimes I politely decline and just say we already have something picked out for Teacher X. You aren't obligated to participate in group gifts so don't feel like an asshole! :)

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Jo December 7, 2010 at 2:48 pm

Holy cow, Batmom! I also follow you on Twitter and think the amount is completely insane. What are they smoking in Brooklyn these days? Wow. Anyway, I think you definitely did the right thing. There must be others who can't afford that amount who have been put in a very uncomfortable position. Also, maybe the lady organizing needs to remember these are teachers, not orphans. They do have families and friends that buy them presents, too. Chances are, they aren't counting on the gifts from their little pupils (though sweet!) to be the highlight of their Christmas.

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Cid December 7, 2010 at 2:48 pm

As a former teacher and the proud owner of about 12,000 mugs I vote for the wine. I also try to give a gift certificate for a local business like our independent book store or cheese shop, even $10 gets someone into the store and they always end up spending more.

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Angela@BeggingTheAnswer December 7, 2010 at 2:49 pm

I ran into this situation when my kids were in daycare.

It was tough on a number of counts.

We could barely afford daycare, and the whole “give what you can” request made us feel like jerks when we couldn't give much.

I personally had reservations about contributing $5 toward a gift, when I wasn't even told in advance what the gift was going to be.

I felt that if I gave the teacher a handmade card or small gift in lieu of the class gift, that I was undermining the class gift effort.

Long story short, I like the idea of individual gifts rather than a big class gift.

I know those who can't give an individual gift might feel left out. But even if you don't have time or money to buy something or to bake, you can at least find time to write a nice thank-you message in a Christmas card.

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Beth December 7, 2010 at 2:50 pm

I think you did the right thing. I am constantly organizing gift collections for my kids' teachers and I have never asked for more than $5 per family if we had a pre-determined gift in mind. What I usually do is ask for contributions towards a gift card, and I always let parents know that it is totally optional, and that parents should feel free to pursue their own gifts and not feel obligated to contribute to a pot. It's tricky business for sure, but I have found that parents respond well when you don't set parameters.

In your situation, I'm not sure if you know any of the other parents well enough to email them and ask if they were surprised by the amount. But I probably would have tried to get a sense from the other parents, and then I would have sent the email back. But regardless, you did the right thing, and I'm sure other parents would thank you and sing your praises up and down if they knew. (Do they know?) Anyway, definitely don't sweat it.

For our teacher appreciation last year, I wrote an official letter to the director specifically outlining all of the wonderful things about my boys' teachers. It went into their personnel files. I encouraged other parents to do the same.

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Tonia December 7, 2010 at 2:57 pm

My daughter's preschool requests cash gifts at the beginning of the year to go toward (this year) a flip camera for the classroom. Amount is optional, not to exceed $25. Since this will cover Christmas and end-of-year gifts for three teachers, it is probably a good bit less than I would have spent otherwise. The classes also do small, low- or no-cost gifts, such as one flower from each kid, or a decorated recipe. For my older daughter's teachers, I usually alternate between Starbucks or bookstore gift cards, as something I feel confident they can use and enjoy.

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Amelia Sprout December 7, 2010 at 3:04 pm

We have three teachers, and there is no way I could do that amount, just no way. As it is, I'm not doing gifts for my family (other than a visit to my mom) not doing gifts for my BIL or SIL, only their kids, doing very little for my MIL (her annual calendar and pictures of the kids), and really, not going huge for the husband or the kid. Money is tight, debts need to be paid off so we can afford the kid on the way. I'll likely make something for M's teachers, maybe a small Starbucks card.
Don't worry about it, do your own thoughtful thing, and just enjoy the season.

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Mona December 7, 2010 at 3:05 pm

It's a lot, but I would just give what I was comfortable with. Something to keep in mind I guess is how many teachers this covers. And I would not have e-mailed the organizers. I have done organizing for teacher gifts (spur of the moment family crisis) and the amount of e-mails I got back and the arguing that ensued over what should be done I found incredibly distasteful and pretty much ensured I will think twice before suggesting something like that to a group of parents. I'm sure that was not the tone or intent of your e-mail but after that experience I just give what I can and then stay quiet. Just my .02.

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Olivia December 7, 2010 at 3:09 pm

I probably wouldn't have written anything because I'm chicken, but I'm glad you did. Requesting a certain amount is downright tacky, especially for a christmas gift.

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Mandy December 7, 2010 at 3:10 pm

My kids have been through daycare systems, preschools, and now kindergarten. The usual amount collected (in our history) for a group gift is $10. I think that's reasonable. I looked at the amount asked of you on Twitter. Holy crap. That's a LOT of money.

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Cagey (Kelli Oliver George) December 7, 2010 at 3:18 pm

How many teachers are involved? I have to buy for 7 teachers this year, so I will certainly be spending nearly $100 by the time I am done (I do a gift bag with chocolates and a $10 Starbucks card for each teacher).

However, the problem for me is not the amount, but the whole insinuation that everyone should contribute that much. Even if I had no problems affording the amount, I would still be in a huff, personally. I think you are correct in being concerned that there may be a family out there who cannot afford this amount. And kudos to your for speaking up for them!

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Marinka December 7, 2010 at 3:22 pm

I'm the class mom this year for my son's class, which involves sending emails like the one that you received. As a matter of fact, I'm going to start copying you on my emails from now on.

Except our school has a gift policy. That's appears to be super complicated:

1. Each family can be asked to contribute an amount ranging from $0 to $25.

2. This is for the entire year, i.e. winter holiday gift and end of year gift.

3. If a family chooses to give more than $25, that's ok, but they can't be asked to do so.

4. If a family chooses to give $0, they have to give the class mom an envelope that says $0! on it, so that class mom does not wonder if the family has gotten around to it or not.

I think they tried to make the policy fair and affordable for everyone, but I can't quite imagine someone handing me an envelope that says $0.

But because people don't spring into action, I end up sending a million emails, each one a little more edgy.

As class mom, I would have appreciated your note. Because it's feedback that whatever amount was being asked for was unreasonable.

It's entirely possible that I am not an ideal candidate for class mom. Or for commenting on posts.

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Tonya December 7, 2010 at 3:29 pm

If you had these thoughts, I'm sure many of the other moms did as well. They're just not brave enough to mention it.

For years I've wanted to ask my kids' teachers “What do you want for Christmas?” My grandmother was a preschool teacher, and although she loved the thought behind all the gifts, she ended up trying to get rid of many of them, and I was the recipient. I mean, how many candles can one have?

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Mom101 December 7, 2010 at 3:35 pm

Marinka, I kind of love the idea of you as class mom.

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Abbey December 7, 2010 at 3:46 pm

I totally agree with your sentiments and the morning after feeling. I am newer to the teacher gift thing and busily feeling clueless.

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Magpie December 7, 2010 at 3:56 pm

I love Marinka's list.

I've never been class parent, but I've been on the board, and been in on the discussions about such things. There are always parents who give less than the ask (or nothing), and always parents who give more, no matter how it's phrased. Do what you're comfortable with.

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ZDub December 7, 2010 at 4:16 pm

I am also a class mom for my daughter's 4th grade class and I asked for a $10 donation OR whatever you could swing. This $10 is to cover three class parties and the end of year teacher gift. There are 24 children in the class and everyone brought in $10. I can imagine that if I would have asked for more than $10, I would probably not have been so lucky.

And you are not being an asshole, no way.

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Lady Mama December 7, 2010 at 4:21 pm

I've been put in this position before and it makes me sweat too. And I'm always the grinch who says no. For me, I try to look at the reason why more is being asked of me. If there's a really good reason – like, the money is for a specific gift that would be absolutely perfect for that person, then at least it's understandable (within reason). But if it's simply a price hike because that's what people think is right, I wouldn't go for it. I say stand your ground and if that means being the grinch then so be it.

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FreeRange Pamela December 7, 2010 at 4:48 pm

Our last end-of-year-gift collection amount, in Brooklyn, but in public Pre-K, was $20. I know lots of folks have lots of money around there, but $60 is a bit ridiculous. I tend to take the individual gift route, and have given things I've made (organic soap) or something else we've chosen that year. I do always try to write a personal note, to let the teacher know how much she/he is appreciated.

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Cloud December 7, 2010 at 5:04 pm

Everytime I read one of these posts I am struck by the thought that I would never survive parenting in NYC. I just wouldn't. I'd be the mom that made all the other moms roll their eyes and whisper to each other “Well, she IS from California….”

We give our day care teachers individual gifts. We do Amazon gift certificates, because you can buy just about anything on Amazon and they make it so easy (you can print out fancy gift cards at home!) This year, the amount will be reduced because I am out of work. I don't think anyone will care. We also write a note expressing our gratitude for what they do, and try to get the child in question to do some artwork for the teacher, which we fully expect will be thrown out after a short stay on her fridge. After all, that is what we do with most of the artwork we get from our kids!

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Mahlers On Safari December 7, 2010 at 5:20 pm

You handled it perfectly.

But now I'm curious. Exactly how much did they ask for? My kids' teachers are going to get paper mache necklaces (nice ones) and a card (from the kids). I think that is plenty.

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Muskrat December 7, 2010 at 5:25 pm

As for the wedding people, if their guests give them money as a gift, and then the couple gave said gift money to charity, assuming the amount given to them by each is equal to, or less than, the maximum amount designated as exempt from the gift tax at the time of the wedding (likely $10k or $11k), and assuming charities X and Y are 501c3 organizations, that's a pretty brilliant way to shelter their income from taxes!
And pretty damned tacky.

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Alex December 7, 2010 at 5:31 pm

I would simply just give what you were able to give. I think that asking for a specific amount especially in this economy & at Christmas time is a bit forward. Just do what you can.

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Jen December 7, 2010 at 6:04 pm

I've been “that mom,” too. In preschool. Ugh. I'm a “make the gift for the teachers” mom. Both because I think it's special, and because it's what we can afford. A jar of homemade mustard is always a hit. Always. But it's still hard saying, “Uh. Nope. Not going to contribute to the class gift.”

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Fabulicious Mami December 7, 2010 at 6:17 pm

As a former teacher, I would have felt extremely uncomfortable receiving any gift that is going to cost as much as whatever it is they are planning to get. I agree with fer here – A gift should feel like a gift, not like it might come back to bite you in the butt one day if you don't give a good grade, etc.

Also, I'm always hesitant to give wine as a gift unless I'm positive that person drinks alcohol. You never know who may be in recovery.

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Jennifer (ponderosa) December 7, 2010 at 6:21 pm

Last year we took a big fat hit financially, just like you did, so I declined to contribute to the class gifts (for elementary school) and instead wrote heartfelt cards. One teacher in particular was so fantastically amazingly wonderful to one of my children, who I'd thought I might have to homeschool, that really, no gift would have been enough. You can't compensate people for love… I did nominate him for a national teaching award, though.

Which is to say: don't fret it. Especially since you don't know any of the parents!

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Schmei December 7, 2010 at 7:03 pm

This is my first time commenting, but I had to chime in: My mother-in-law is a wonderful teacher who works with all the special-needs kids in her school. She gets downright emotional about thoughtful handmade gifts (One of her kids sewed her a colorful pencil case, which she uses every day) or small treats that she can share with her family. That stuff means so much to her.

I think if all the parents contributed that kind of money to get her something Cartier-agenda-like, she would just be embarrassed.

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Marketing Mommy December 7, 2010 at 7:23 pm

I am the mom sending the email out to all the preschool parents this year (and last) asking for contributions to a staff gift pool. Ours is also optional and I don't ask for any specific amount, but I've found families donate $25-$200, with most families contributing $50-75. The funds are distributed among all of the staffers unless a parent directs the contribution to specific teachers.

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My Kids' Mom December 7, 2010 at 7:40 pm

Ah yes- got an email yesterday that “we” are buying the teacher an iPod. I was a bit surprised because “I” was making her candy. Money is tight and I decided to do some nice things at various times during the year and take Xmas lightly. So, for now I'm ignoring the request. If they come back to me I'll chip in probably. And resent it.

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Chara December 7, 2010 at 8:28 pm

On behalf of me (no i don't have a kid in your kid's class… or state for that matter) Thank you. I'm one of those weenie women who don't always speak up for themselves, but when I made the decision to be a SAHM I gave up a significant portion of our income and if I choose to send my son to a mother's day out, it's going to eat up all of the money that I do make- never mind the money I would be asked to pony up for teacher gifts and parties and everything else.
Keep speaking up- some of us are still learning how.

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Jack December 7, 2010 at 8:30 pm

I have written that letter more than once. This year we were asked to give $80 for the group gift.

That is supposed to cover the entire year. It includes teachers, TAs and custodial staff. So when you break it down it is not that much per person.

However, it is a private school and we are all paying significant amounts for tuition.

For many of the families the extra money isn't something that they would ever notice, but for some it is.

I don't have a problem being the one to say something. It is important and sometimes a good reminder that though our kids attend the same school, we aren't all in the same tax bracket.

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Barbara Fryman December 7, 2010 at 8:46 pm

We've been in both positions, so I get that mentality. Our kids have always attended private school, and I've made it pretty clear to all the moms in the class that my contribution is all the time I volunteer. I have a friend who works full time and feels like extravagant gifts are her way of contributing. I also have a dear friend who is caring for her nephew and is doing all she can to have him in this school rather than in the terrible public schools where they live. In the end we are all doing what we can to put our kids first and show gratitude where we can.

Our class, btw, asks that any money for class gifts or parties be cash put in an envelope with the room mom's name. The teacher gathered all the envelopes in a large one and gave it to the room mom. No one keeps track of who pays what, and that sure as heck takes the edge off!

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Nicole Pelton December 7, 2010 at 9:13 pm

Didn't read all the comments…but I think you did the right thing, athough the cynical me doubts it will change anything. We went to a low-income preschool where I gave a bunch of small gift cards to be shared among all the teachers, because it was like 95% scholarship & the teachers didn't expect anything but needed a lot. The next year I gave cards, maybe because I didn't even want to bother to compete with potentially huge gifts.

I think requesting is good, because for those who want to give $ it's nice to pool $ for a group gift, but it should be optional and I can't imagine being asked to donate a certain amount for a teacher…I've giving a lot, for me, this year – $20/teacher, because I could barely afford anything last year (my contribution was being room mom and the year before showing up on random days with coffee for the teachers). We buy gift cards where the school actually gets a percentage, plus if some classes collect a lot more than others we sort of share the wealth (coordinated by grade level coordinators).

Think about the schools where teachers aren't getting anything and perhaps help those out if you can. I think it's nice of you to think about others, and not just worry about what you can afford or whether you personally care if you are “that mom” :). From what I hear, the best teachers are thilled with personal notes and cards and things from the kids.

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Nicole Pelton December 7, 2010 at 9:21 pm

I totally wish Marinka was my class mom, and I would have for sure given her an envelope that said $0 cuz that is hilarious. with a heartfelt note, of course.

I managed to score the two good room moms this year, finally. I don't think I'll be asked to do it again.

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Stitchify December 7, 2010 at 10:12 pm

Don't play along. Do something on your own.
I am a staff person in a law firm. Every year a group of the better-paid people get together to adopt families through the Salvation Army. They pool a ton of money and give an extravagant amount of gifts.
I can't give as much. And I would rather do something on my own than get lost in the group. Although ever year I feel like an ass hat for clicking “No” on the “Will You Participate” email, I do it anyway. It's just not right for me. Forget the class gift. Give your own thing. You'll be more memorable that way anyway

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Beth-Anne December 7, 2010 at 10:44 pm

As a teacher, I can tell you I have been on the receiving end of some pretty extravagant gifts: designer handbags, a pearl necklace, custom made bracelets, etc. I have to be honest and say while those gifts were nice, the most treasured gifts I received were books. My class new how much I love to read and when someone would take 15 minutes out of their day to buy a book that they think that I would enjoy . . . wow, that was thoughtful. A gift is simply that a gift. It means nothing if there is no sentiment behind it.

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Lara December 8, 2010 at 12:09 am

I think you should give your kids' teachers about a thousand dollars each. For shoe shopping sprees. (Of course, I might be biased because I get very few Christmas gifts from the bratty teenagers I teach and I'm super stressed out right now and somewhat cranky. So don't take anything I say at face value.)

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sherpamama December 8, 2010 at 12:17 am

Granted I live in rural Maine but we were asked to donate $3.00. Total. What bothers me is that the list of what the teacher “wants” is all school supplies. I adore my daughter's kindergarden teacher and feel like giving her school supplies for a present sucks. We should thank her for all her hard work by gifting her with supplies the school should be providing? I'll send in the $3 but I will also do something nice for her!

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Mrs. Q. December 8, 2010 at 12:48 am

Wow.

In my perfect world, teachers would make more than lawyers, so I think showing generosity at the holidays is wonderful.

People need to be sensitive to the fact that not everyone is doing well, although that mom is probably oblivious. I bet you spoke up for 10 or so others who were thinking the same thing.

A mom at our preschool sent a note and said if we wanted to do our own gifts, no problem. But if we wanted to go in on a group gift, say $10 from each family, she would evenly distribute the total between the teachers and get them each gift cards. I thought that was very fair. And my shopping was done.

In addition to “the holiday tip” I have my kids do something more personal, too– we make a huge tray of cookies for the school's holiday open house, and make a special gift for Teacher Appreciation Week– they always seem quite touched by that because it's less of a “gift” and more recognition of why they are teachers.

Hey– my girlfriend who works at Johnson & Johnson dropped off a gift bag stuffed with jugs of hand sanitizer and her teacher swooned. It's all good.

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Danielle-Marie December 8, 2010 at 12:59 am

$60 from EACH parent? Good lord, where'd you send them…Law School? That is extremely steep.

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Mrs. Q. December 8, 2010 at 1:40 am

And can I ask? Room Moms? Class Moms? Is that an elected position, chosen by the teacher or just someone who steps up to the plate to organize things? Because we don't have those (we have the PTO) or maybe we do and I'm the one loser mom that doesn't know that?

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Anonymous December 8, 2010 at 2:11 am

As a teacher, I can say -in complete honesty- that a handwritten note from a child or a parent means WAY more to me than any monetary gift or plate of cookies… especially the at-the-end-of-the-year notes from kids that really struggled. As a parent, I agree with a lot of others here – if you feel compelled to give, then give only what you are comfortable with, no matter the situation.

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Motherhood Uncensored December 8, 2010 at 3:06 am

I told my husband about this and he asked “Are they gifting her a retirement fund?”

Heh.

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Stacey December 8, 2010 at 3:10 am

I would simply respond to the request by saying I'm giving my own gift to Ms. X and give the teacher the gift of your choice. Besides, I don't think it's right for people to request a gift, unless it's a donation for a charity anyway. It kind of loses its meaning when it had to be asked for.

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Anonymous December 8, 2010 at 3:12 am

As a teacher, gifts are awkward all around. Really, what I cherish most of all are the letters, and I keep them forever. Teaching middle school, the letters are harder to come by, but all the more special because of it. Yesterday, I received a letter from a student and you know what? There isn't a material gift that could compete…

If a parent really wanted to show appreciation, a letter telling me that all of the time and love I pour into your child does not go unnoticed. That your child loves my class, even is he/she does not love the subject.

Anyway…don't sweat the donation. Have your daughter draw a picture, write a letter from mom to teacher and know that your gift will be the favorite. ;)

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Another Suburban Mom December 8, 2010 at 3:48 am

You did the right thing. I usually bake a ton of eggnog poundcakes for the various teachers and combine that with some nice hand sanitizer moisturizer and a note and call it a day.

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Anonymous December 8, 2010 at 6:36 am

I'm a mom of a kindergartner attending a private school. I volunteered for the 'room mom' position with no real knowledge of what the heck it was or what I was supposed to do. So, I'm taking my instructions from the other moms with older kids and the PTA. I was 'told' to organize a class Christmas gift. So I sent out a letter asking for those interested to contribute $5-$15 each. No obligation. You'd think I asked them to donate a limb. The negative responses I've received are unbelievable. I wasn't trying to make anyone feel badly or pressure anyone into doing something they didn't want to do. So, my advice? Don't s**t all over the room mom. Maybe she's like me and just following the flock.If you don't feel like contributing for whatever reason a simple, friendly 'no thank you, I've got other plans' note would suffice. I wasn't trying to segregate the class into 'can' and 'can't', I was just trying to do something nice for the teacher.

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Mom101 December 8, 2010 at 12:35 pm

Thanks for the perspective Anon. For what it's worth, I didn't shit all over the room mom. I think she got some bad information from the school or there was some miscommunication. I have no doubt her intentions were wonderful.

Also, you can say shit here.

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Jessica {Team Rasler} December 8, 2010 at 1:20 pm

I just sent out a “give if you can, even just a few dollars toward a gift certificate to the local mall” for my son's teachers. I figured that would help out anyone too busy but who wanted to give.

But I'm going to be yet another teacher to comment that the best gifts are rarely bought with money. I still tear up over the letters parents and students have written to me over the years and yet I have no idea who gave me all the holiday mugs I finally gave away last year. The sweetest gift I ever got was from my students who knew that I wanted to ride in a hot air balloon someday, but of course they couldn't give me that (it is expensive and I was pregnant), so they worked with a mom to make a huge card with a picture of me in a hot air balloon on the front and all their signatures inside. The consideration of these kids blew me away, and it was free (aside from the cost of the paper and crayons)!

I say that knowing that it's awkward to question or refuse group gifts, and it can make you feel on the outs with other parents. But doing something personal will make you in with the teacher(s), and I'd say that's more important for your children's success.

And I think there are plenty of moms out there who still want to be your friend. : )

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Paul S. Gumbinner December 8, 2010 at 4:14 pm

I think that holiday gifts have gotten way out of hand. It isn't a contest, rather it should be just a means of acknowledgment. Sage should draw a great picture, dictate a note telling the teacher how important and wonderful she is and you should make a comfortable donation.

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Sarah December 8, 2010 at 5:54 pm

Liz you are not THAT MOM. I promise. (THAT MOM is the one that sent the unthinking email).

I have coordinated our Teacher Appreciation Week activities at my kids daycare/preschool for 2 years running (something like 100 families and 250+ kids and 70 teachers and staff). It's a full time daycare and we don't ask that much of the parents for the teacher gifts! For a 7 hour a week preschool, that amount you tweeted was ridiculous. I'd have loved to have seen the email you got to compare it to our notice to the parents on TAW just out of nosiness :)

Our event is one week in April – these teachers have our kids all week, 40 hours a week for something like 50 weeks a year. It's the least we can do to celebrate them for a week. This year, we asked $20 per child enrolled for a group gift and it was entirely optional. And I mean that sincerely. There was no keeping track of who donated and who did not and the gift was from ALL the children to their teachers. We estimated what we could afford to put toward a gift for every teacher evenly and we able to give them all a Tervis monogrammed tumbler and a $50 gift card.

But where it really shined is we also had options for parents that wanted to provide an item for a school wide lunch or breakfast the moms hosted (and SERVED) that week as well as parents that donated items toward a week long raffle. When it came down to it, we had more than enough raffle items for each teacher to get something additional and had more food that week than we knew what to do with. We also collected a card or picture from each child to present with the group gifts so every child was included whether they donated or not.

End of story (I know, long winded) – when you leave it up to the parents to offer what they can you are often blessed with more. And the teachers were overwhelmed by the SERVICE of the parents that week more than the gifts. That's the part that really mattered, showing that it wasn't just throwing money toward a gift for them, but spending some time honoring them for what they do with our kids.

Marinka made me smile, I'm not the only one rushing to pull it off last minute.

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Annie @ PhD in Parenting December 8, 2010 at 7:56 pm

I hate stuff like this. I hate it because some parents may not be able to afford that amount. I hate it because some may want to give more. I hate it because I don't want to get into the politics of deciding as a group what to give the teacher or having the “class mom” choose something I think is inappropriate. I hate it because I do notice that some teachers give more to my kids and I give more to those teachers too — I like the flexibility to be able to reward the extra effort or extra love that they give.

All that to say….GAH! So far so good at our school…we all just do our own thing, which is nothing for some families, homemade gifts for others, small gift cards for some, and extravagant gifts for others. I'm okay with that.

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LazyMom December 8, 2010 at 11:29 pm

Yes. I would definitely forgo the group gift certificate to Tiffany's and go with a nice drinkable bottle of wine–I believe ANYONE who works with children likes to receive wine.

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Mom's Lifesavers December 9, 2010 at 1:49 am

I just had an interesting issue with this myself. Some of the parents were putting together a fund to give the teachers a new printer…A PRINTER! They should have a printer already AND there is nothing sexy about giving a hardworking team of teachers a printer.
I reached out to our cash rich foundation and asked them for the printer…pretty please with a cherry on top! They were pleased to help out. Now we are getting the teachers something fun for the holidays to enjoy…perhaps they can buy some fancy paper for that new printer! :)

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Mom's Lifesavers December 9, 2010 at 1:51 am

Forgot to mention…the state of Massachusetts now has a limit on how much a teacher can get from a family…I think it's $50 max.

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Anonymous December 9, 2010 at 6:55 am

Yes we are in MA and I just got the notice from our room moms. They can give over that if it is work-related so I think they are doing a gift card for a school supply store

So our letter explained that. Also the rule for all the times we've done this is the card is signed from everyone in the classroom- regardless of who contributes. Finally for reference the letter stated a suggesting of 5-10$ but again that it was optional and any amt was fine

I was thankful because our class is co-taught so there are 2 teachers so this will make it easier.

I'm thinking about giving them reusable insulated cups that I got at wholesale prices this time. For year end something homemade and I'd like to see if the room moms can get a book donated to the class or library from the whole class to the teachers

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rbiggs December 14, 2010 at 8:30 pm

Wow, as a teacher who works with kids who hardly have enough food to eat, let alone worry about what to BUY their teacher at the holiday. My favorites have been handmade cards and heartfelt letters about what lessons they have learned. I have worked in more affluent schools too, but working in an area with more and more poverty each year, GRATITUDE is not overrated.

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brianna December 19, 2010 at 8:41 am

I know I'm late, but I just wanted to toss my two cents into the pot!

I'm a teacher (grades 7,8 and 9) at a very affluent private school in Canada. I probably echo other teachers when I say that there is no gift more valuable than a hand written note of gratitude. With all of the presents and gift cards that ended up on my desk this week, only one included more writing than “to Teacher, from _______.” That card meant more to me than any gift could!

I hope you found resolution to that sticky situation and did what's best for you :)

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Chris June 6, 2011 at 2:01 am

I am the coordinator for all of the room parents at our school. I make sure each class has 1 or 2 and that they know what to do. We have strict rules for asking for $ for gifts.

The room parent cannot ask for a specific amount. And it's best to tell the parents that if they want to give anything to just put cash in an envelope and drop it in a designated place. No one needs to know who gives, how much. Every child's name goes on a card.

Good for you for speaking up!!

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Julie Marsh June 6, 2011 at 2:33 am

This whole topic makes me twitchy on multiple levels.

One, there's the economic factor, which you covered perfectly and which applies no matter where a family lives.

Two, there's the impersonality of it. Yes, you can buy something bigger and more fabulous when you collect money from everyone, but is the excess more meaningful than individual, personal gifts?

Three, once I hand over the cash, somebody else makes the decision on what to buy. I've participated in group gifts with friends before (like your 40th birthday!), but there was discussion and consensus involved.

Finally, I loathe the control and posturing that's often involved in heading up these gift-giving efforts. I don't mean to malign moms like Marinka and Alma and others who volunteer their time and have chimed in here, but I know from experience that some moms have a big old ass kissing agenda, which makes me all the more unwilling to play their games.

Tacy and CJ wrote personal letters to their teachers, telling them what they loved about the school year. That's not something a teacher can buy herself, the girls felt involved, and it didn't cost me a penny.

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Liz June 6, 2011 at 2:53 am

The parents at my son's preschool decided to give the teachers (there are 7 of them) each a “basket of love” at the end of the year. Each family could donate something small (or big) to the basket and the teachers would be thrilled. There were lots of homemade goodies, candles, fruit from someone's backyard tree. They loved their gifts and said it felt like christmas because of the amount of small wonderful, heartfelt gifts they received.

Of course my kid goes to a hippie preschool so that may not go over where elsewhere.

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Raquel Rivera Shank June 6, 2011 at 4:10 am

I was a 3rd grade teacher for 10 years. My fav gifts were hand written notes with drawings of me/our classroom/the kids/school etc. Something about kid drawings and a thank you note in their words just killed me. However,I agree with you now that I am a mom and in the pre school world..,. I want to give those teachers a gazillion dollars and a spa day for loving my kid 6 hours a week. Not to mention the potty training help. Oy, if Only I had the funds!!

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