How To Stop The Barrage Of Bad Gifts?

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Dear Miriam, 

My first year as a classroom teacher was the 2019-2020 school year. The year ended virtually, of course, and I was so touched by the emails of support and occasional gift card that I received. Fast forward to last year, where most of my end-of-year gifts were the clichéd mix of candles, soap, and candy I’ll never eat. I’m dreading the June onslaught of stuff I don’t want. Is there a polite way to tell the parents of my students that I don’t want these things, and either gift cards — or nothing — would be preferable? 


Grade School Gifts


Dear Gifts,

I don’t think you can tell your students or their parents that you’d prefer gift cards or heartfelt notes. That’s just not how end-of-year gifts work. Just like your job is to teach your students the skills they need in the world, your job is also to model appreciation and graciousness, even in the face of another bottle of smelly lotion.

If you have a class parent or parent-teacher association, however, you may be able to have a third-party help direct people’s gift-giving energy. While I don’t think you can ask for personal gifts you’d actually use, you could create a classroom wishlist and have someone else direct parents accordingly. In this scenario, you may end up with an Amazon gift card, which you could use on something for yourself, but you could also make good on that wishlist and set yourself up for a fully stocked classroom in the fall. 

Whatever you receive, spend the first week of the summer writing thank-you notes to your students and their families. Then identify places you can regift these things where they might be appreciated. Nursing homes, domestic violence shelters, or even just your local Buy Nothing Group may all be good options. You could even save some to regift yourself in the future when you need to give something simple and generic. 

Finally, let your reaction to these end-of-year gifts motivate you to improve gift-receiving experiences for others. Give your students time in class to write notes of appreciation to other teachers or staff in the building. Ask other teachers what they’d like to receive and pass that along strategically to parents in their classes. Remember the gifts you’ve been given that have meant the most to you, both as a teacher and in other parts of your life, and aspire to be someone who gives gifts that are remembered. 

Be well,