06/05/2015 04:54 pm ET | Updated Jun 05, 2016

Keeping Up With the Joneses: Teacher Gifts

It's that time of year again. The school year is coming to a close and parents nationwide are frantically pinning teacher gift ideas to their Pinterest boards. The more elaborate, colorful, and detailed the better. Bonus points if you can make everything rhyme. Not the creative type? Plenty of moms are hitting up the local Target for more mainstream gifts -- hell, even a loaded gift card will do.


But why am I writing an article on this topic when my kids aren't even school-aged yet? A mom of a toddler and baby wouldn't yet be faced with the pressure of teacher gifts, right? Wrong. Oh yes, keeping up with the Joneses even applies to daycare.

When my 2-year-old daughter made the move from one daycare room to the next, I wrote a nice letter to her teacher thanking her for being such a wonderful caretaker for my daughter and for showing her love and support in my absence. Words that I felt wholeheartedly as I wrote them and thought to myself, "I hope this letter conveys the true gratitude that I have."

But boy was my little letter upstaged by the elaborate (and expensive!) gifts that came pouring in from other moms of children in the room. In fact, when I glanced over at the counter, I realized it was covered with gift bags and boxes.

Oops. Guess I missed the memo.


Don't get me wrong, I fully believe that teachers are some of the most hard working yet under paid and even under appreciated workers there are. And I'm completely in favor of showing gratitude to the people who have been educating your children throughout the year. But whatever happened to a simple thank you card (maybe even written by the child him/herself!)? Maybe a special treat to celebrate the end of the year, like a bag of M&Ms for the teacher you know has a sweet tooth.

In the same vein, I must admit that one of the first thoughts that went through my head was "Don't I already pay these people enough!?" Childcare costs alone are asinine, without the added pressure of forking over dough for an expensive present at the end of the year. Can't a genuine note of appreciation suffice?


Perhaps parents of (public) school-aged children have a different outlook, given the fact that they aren't "paying" for the year's worth of care or education (oh how easy we forget about school taxes!).

As if that wasn't enough, the end-of-the-year gift brigade doesn't stop here. It seems that every holiday warrants a trinket for the teacher. And the worst offender? Christmas.

Last Christmas, before the full extent of teacher gift expectations was aware to me, I was preparing to drop of my kids at daycare on the last day before the holiday break. Driving through the coffee shop to grab breakfast, I thought I would pick up a small gift card for the two teachers as a little Christmas present from my girls. "Ten dollars each should be nice," I thought. "That will get them each two or three cups of coffee." In all honesty, I actually thought this was a very nice gesture. "I bet I'm one of the only moms in the room to think of something like this," I naively thought.

Fortunately, after leaving the coffee shop that morning and on my way to daycare, I happened to be talking to one of my best friends who is a teacher.

"Did you get anything for the girls' teachers for Christmas?" she asked me. Feeling generous that yes, I had, I told her about the gift cards. "Do you think that's a nice gift?" I replied. Her response floored me. "Well," she said cautiously, "if it were me I would probably have given more. Most of the kids in my room give me gift cards for $50, sometimes even $100. I've even received cash."


Now, before you start calling me Scrooge, hear me out. I'm not anti-giving. I'm not opposed to a small symbol of gratitude. My issue rests with the scale of the gift-giving and the pressure to do so.


What if I didn't have the money to stay up to par with the gifts being given to teachers? What if I simply didn't think the teacher was really that worthy? Is my lack of gift or one that is put to shame by others going to end up being reflected into the care that teacher shows my child?

So are you wondering what happened with the coffee shop gift cards? I gave in to the pressure and increased the amount. And felt somewhat ridiculous doing so. My kids haven't even entered kindergarten yet and I already feel the burden of teacher gifts weighing on my bank account.

While many might disagree, to me it seems like the practice and obligation of giving teachers gifts has become over the top. Who knows what children (read: parents) will be giving their teachers in a few years when my kids start elementary school, but I plan to continue to follow the motto "less is more."