The Awkward Business of Receiving Gifts from Students

I just saw a post on a Facebook group about a teacher who placed an ad to sell some chocolates she had apparently just received from students (the picture is of the chocolates on her desk with students in the background –  seriously).  I try not to judge; maybe this teacher needed that $8.  Maybe she was going to donate it to charity.  Personally, I would never sell my chocolates.  I don’t even like sharing them.  As I write this there are four empty chocolate boxes in my recycling bin.  I had a little help but mostly it was all my doing.  The worst part is that there are three more full ones in my cupboard, along with two different kinds of cookies.  I’m probably going to eat them all.  Why must the students give me chocolate?  So much chocolate?  Anyway, this got me to thinking about student gifts.

On the one hand, who doesn’t like presents.  But on the other, a person can only receive so many  candles/ boxes of chocolates/ small home decor items/ mugs.  (The gift cards I’ll never complain about; I am only human.  Don’t pretend like you don’t get excited when you find one of those tucked in a card.)  The thing is, I don’t want families to spend money to tell me they care.  I would prefer a really thoughtfully written card that outlines all the ways in which I’m an outstanding and inspiring teacher or  how I’ve single-handedly changed the child’s life for the better.  (Instead it usually just says, “Merry Christmas hope you have a nice holiday” along the very top, with a total disregard for punctuation or aesthetic spacing.)

Now, before you begin drafting your comments of outrage about how unappreciative I am or how much I am missing the point of Christmas, let me assure you that I get it.  The giver is more important than the gift, and the act of giving more important than that of receiving and so forth.  I make a point of telling the student how grateful I am because that’s all anyone really hopes for when they give a gift, I think.  And I truly am touched that the students and their parents think of me during a busy and special time of year.  But all morals and true meanings of Christmas and things you’re supposed to say aside, it doesn’t change the fact that people adorning you with gifts causes a legit barrage of mixed feelings.

I’ve tried sending home letters to request that no one send in presents, but they always do anyway.  I recognize that people just like to give their thanks this time of year, so I’ve also tried suggesting that in place of presents they make a donation to our classroom library, but even that letter was awkward to write: “I’m not saying I expect Christmas presents, and I’m not saying I don’t appreciate the ones you give, but if you were going to consider the possibility of maybe thinking about reflecting on the entirely voluntary option of giving a gift, would you kindly consider instead making a donation to our classroom library of your child’s favourite book, used or new?”  Even with that letter I think I got one book and the rest were all candles and chocolates.  So I just stopped sending home letters about Christmas gifts.

I’m an awkward gift receiver in any circumstance, but the classroom might be my worst circumstance of all.  This year one of my quieter students handed me a wine-shaped gift bag and before I could help myself I said, “Whoa-hoa, my favourite shape!”  He just gave me a puzzled look and I felt instantly mortified.  I silently scolded myself,  Do not say these things out loud!  Then I looked inside and realized it was hair products (his parents are hair stylists) and I made it worse by saying, “Oh hair stuff! I heard your parents give these!” (because I had – last year’s teacher had told me to look forward to the hair goodies).  The student just nodded uncomfortably like, why have you heard about my Christmas presents? and backed away.

So on the last day before break, my desk piles up with gift bags and the students always insist that I open all of the presents in front of them like it’s a bridal shower.  Everyone sits and stares at me expectantly and even if I genuinely like a gift, I still end up sounding like an overly enthusiastic person trying to compensate for the fact that they don’t like a present.  I really don’t handle it well.

Sometimes I go and make it extra awkward by trying to formulate some sort of appreciative comment about the item I’ve just received.  If a student gives me a decorative object, I feel the need to tell everyone exactly where in my house I will be putting that object (even though it’s usually the closet because my house is already overly decorated with things that, you know, I chose.)  I’ll admit that I once received a candle set that I truly didn’t have a purpose for that I knew was from Wal-Mart, and I debated whether it would be a lesser sin to return it for store credit and buy something for the class.  I couldn’t bring myself to do it so it’s currently still decorating my closet.  But now that I know that teachers are apparently selling their gifts, well, maybe I feel a touch less guilty.  I suppose I could donate the items, but I feel guilty about that, too, because the item was intended for me.  So I keep them all. Ok, almost all.

And then there are those students who don’t give  anything, and I can’t help but wonder, was it something I did?  It’s not that I ever expect a present, but a lack of present makes me irrationally worried that maybe it’s some sort of unspoken gesture to communicate the student’s true feelings about me.  Maybe it’s a passive aggressive F-you.  Maybe in previous years the parents have bought presents but this year they were like, Nah.  There are so many conjectures to be made out of a non-gift.  Of course, sometimes the opposite happens, and the student you’re pretty sure hates your guts surprises you with a $25 gift card to Starbucks and you feel insta-guilty for all the grief you’ve given them and wonder if maybe you were too hard on them on the report card.

Am I the only one who thinks this much about presents?  I don’t know. Merry Christmas everyone.

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