Should Jersey teachers be barred from holiday gifts?
It's that time of year, for sure. So, many people are expecting Christmas tips and gifts. From the garbageman to the mailman, the hairstylist to the dog walker. So-called etiquette experts flood the internet with holiday tipping guides this month.
School teachers over the years have received far more than just the cliched apple. We wait for that email to come home from the class parent requesting each child bring in X amount of dollars towards a group gift. The standard I've been seeing lately is $20. That works out to about a $400 gift for your child's teacher. Has it gotten out of control?
A few years back Alabama passed an ethics law barring public school teachers from accepting any holiday gift of value. You could still send in some baked cookies or maybe a very small potted plant, but it had to be of "de minimis" value. Anything of real value they could potentially enjoy themselves or resell was outlawed. The old rule there was gifts were allowed from individual students up to $100. Imagine being the teacher who receives that from a student who she then has to grade a D-. Awkward.
And that's where the problem comes in. Is it a conflict of interest? The students will still be under the authority of their teacher for the majority of the school year after the teacher receives, or doesn't receive, a gift from them. Could this sway even subconsciously the way they interact with the kid? Is even the appearance of favoritism a problem?
In the interest of full disclosure I should note that I am married to a school teacher. And I don't like this tradition. My wife agrees with me. She tells her students not to give her anything for the holidays and that just being a good and respectful student is gift enough. That probably sounds corny but she means it.
I once heard that a little girl in one of my kid's classrooms whose family had fallen on hard times was told by the class parent that she was not allowed to sign the group card to the teacher because her family hadn't given any money. Keep it classy! And this is the problem. The conflict and competition are growing as the gifts are growing.
My feelings on this are not about teachers being undeserving. I see firsthand how hard teachers work. It is an extremely difficult and often misunderstood job that most people could never do. And they are not paid nearly enough. And their retirement and benefits are being threatened. But this isn't about that. This is about the students and poor families being singled out and sometimes shamed. Is it time it stopped?