Are teachers’ presents bribes or just being nice?

Our son is attending a very academically competitive charter school this year and the booster club sent out this note about a month ago about teachers’ holiday presents. (I edited the note to take out the name of the school.)

From the Boosters:

“Staff holiday gift collection donation deadline is Wednesday, December 11th!This holiday season, show your gratitude to the dedicated teachers and staff at XXXXX. They are not only role models who exemplify hard work, commitment and a passion for learning, but they are devoted to helping your children reach their highest potential.”

“Please consider a small donation to the All Staff Holiday Gift Collection – show that you appreciate and support those who invest so much in our students. Put your gift in the boosters general mailbox, located at the front office.  Make checks payable to the boosters with a notation on the memo line “Teacher Holiday Gifts.” Cash contributions should be in a clearly marked envelope. Please include your child’s name and grade. Holiday cards will be made for every teacher and staff member on behalf of your student. Funds collected will be split and presented to the teachers and staff. XXXX policy prohibits teachers from accepting gifts of anything other than nominal value, so this is your chance to give! Act now and cross it off your “To-Do” list!”

I found this note very interesting because it really goes against the normal attitude at schools about teacher gift giving. The charter school seems concerned about parents using the gifts to garner favoritism. Generally at schools, whatever the parents come up with is acceptable. Our classes at the elementary school routinely give a teacher a $200 gift card. ($10 a parent.)  But at the charter school they don’t want the teachers to feel pressured to hand out good grades to the big givers.

The only other time I have seen this approach was for teacher’s appreciation day at the middle school last year. They asked for gift cards saying they would be evenly distributed among the teachers.

I mentioned one day to my son about him bringing a particular item to one of his teachers saying I thought the teacher would enjoy it. (I can’t even remember what the item was.) But I remember he was appalled. “That would be like bribing a teacher. You can’t give them anything!” He was very serious.

So on Friday I had several university students give me an ornament that they all signed. They also gave me a coffee gift card. It was a $15 coffee card from four girls. Another student also gave me a sweet thank you and another $15 gift card. I got a little worried that maybe I shouldn’t take the gift cards so I wrote the dean to see if it was OK.  I know the students just meant it with love and kindness but I don’t want to get into trouble. I haven’t turned in my final grades yet but I don’t think the coffee cards would influence me to give higher grades. So we’ll see what she says.

How does your school view teacher’s presents? Can they be viewed as a bribe? Should they all be handled how the charter school is doing it? Or hey if it’s a teacher everyone likes, they should get a good gift?

Update: Dean wrote back to say follow newsroom policy: Anything more than $25 give back or give away. The AJC was very serious about this when I was an editor. We were sent so much stuff and never kept anything. I was the children’s editor and got soo many movies, books, toys. And we gave it all away.

37 comments Add your comment


December 9th, 2013
6:11 am

I am a teacher and gifts do not affect my relationship to students when it comes to grading.

Bonnie Little

December 9th, 2013
6:24 am

I think a gift to a teacher from a child is merely a family’s way of saying thank you to that teacher for her/his hard work and dedication to helping your child achieve a better life through knowledge and learning. Thinking of it as a “bribe” makes no sense if the teacher is upstanding and fair. I think the gesture is thoughtful and caring. It shouldn’t be expensive or inappropriate but given with much thought to the person.


December 9th, 2013
6:26 am

This topic is a good example of something that doesn’t need to be “over analyzed”. Does there really need to be an “official policy” for everything?


December 9th, 2013
6:37 am

A Greetings card or a small simple gift is a sign of affection and respect. A cash gift/donation is not.
A trip to the Bahamas is not a gift it is a bribe. We have to becareful to not make too much of an issue of this. If this becomes a sweeping movement, a faction of the Fed Gov might just delcare a
Teachers Gift Inequality and start taxing parents with school aged children in order to right the injustice. If that happens their is a good chance their website will not work properly.


December 9th, 2013
6:52 am

At my school teachers rarely get gifts over $5, and not too many of them. We are a poor school. As a push in I almost NEVER get a gift. Last year I got a $10 gift card to Starbucks, so I passed it to my younger daughter.

My daughter, who teaches in another county with a much higher SES gets gift cards and gifts, sometimes amounting to nearly $100 in all.

I have never felt grading pressure.

I gave gifts to many of my children’s teachers, up through high school, based on things the kids would mention, but more importantly I would write personal notes of gratitude. As a teacher, those notes, plus those students sent me, plus things my students or their parents made, are very, very precious!


December 9th, 2013
6:57 am

PS Theresa, did that contribution note come with a chip that plays “Climb Every Mountain” when you open it? LOL


December 9th, 2013
7:28 am

As a teacher I ask what presents??? At the school where I teach we rarely get any presents. The most we get is usually a Dollar Tree mug. A $200 gift card I would faint dead away if I ever recieved anything like that.


December 9th, 2013
8:19 am

I don’t like the “put your child’s name” and teacher on the form”. Seems like they would dis-favor any student who didn’t contribute…


December 9th, 2013
8:41 am

Seems like they’re taking it a bit to extreme but my theory is that every rule or law has a name behind it; meaning someone did something in order for the rule or law to be created. So some parent with too much money and a struggling kid must have attempted to bribe a teacher with gifts in exchange for better grades. It seems shameful that we’d have to make sweeping rules like this though.


December 9th, 2013
8:44 am

It’s only a “bribe” if the teacher allows it to be. I can’t imagine any teacher would allow a gift card to a coffee shop affect his/her grading principles.


December 9th, 2013
8:56 am

Allowing public employees to accept only nominal gifts from individuals sounds like a good idea to me. A handmade gift by a child or other small token is appropriate. A larger class or booster club gift would be fine. Gifts from individuals may not bribe ethical teachers, but the can still lead to perceptions of bribery. If I were a teacher, I think I’d appreciate not being put in the position of having to accept or refuse a more extravagant gift.


December 9th, 2013
8:59 am

I never considered gifts a bribe. I taught, in the classroom for 15 years. I got plenty of gifts. Some small and some large. I remember students now, from the ornaments they gave me years ago. It bring s smile to my face.

@ Bone and TS …I agree! Sad, to me, that we consider gifts a bribe.

I was the collector of $$$ for group gifts MANY times, when I was teaching. I collected $$$ from the adults for all sorts of things. Some people are on top of things and some are not.

I would send around an envelope with:

We are collecting $$$ to buy ________ a baby stroller and would love to have each person contribute $10. If you would like to join us please sign up on the list below. This envelope will circulate 3 times only. We need the money by ________. When you have put your $10 in the envelope, please mark through your name. PLEASE DO NOT FEEL THE NEED TO PARTICIPATE. This is not obligatory. You may also want to purchase your own gift and that is wonderful too. The last circulation will have the date circled in red. Thanks for helping us with this project. Simply put a check by your name and give it to the next person on the list. The last person can give it back to me each time.

This saved me a LOT of trouble of trying to run around and hound down people for money. It was also pretty simply to see who gave and who did not. NO ONE WAS OBLIGATED.


December 9th, 2013
9:17 am

Unbelievable to request cash gifts for teachers…they always complain about low salaries, but it’s not like they didn’t know it when they took the job. It’s all about supply and demand, salaries would go up if colleges weren’t turning out thousands of teaching grads each year that exceed the demand for the job.


December 9th, 2013
9:39 am

The some people are on top of things comment is regarding the fact that some people will bring money to contribute and some people promise to do so but never will. Sorry for any confusion.


December 9th, 2013
9:43 am

TWG…did you see this…Double pensions boost retirement of Gwinnett educators …in the AJC.


December 9th, 2013
10:04 am

It is a bit of both…there are families that can do a great deal $$$ and time wise. Those families do expect (and often get) special treatment for their kids. It just is what it is…the teachers are not stupid they know the families that cannot afford anything or anything much.

What gets me is when the card on the “class gift” only states the names of the kids who gave $$. Some poor (literally) child could be in a situation where they did not have the $$ for the gift….especially the last few years. Class gift should be signed by class no matter who gave or how much.

C from Marietta

December 9th, 2013
10:09 am

I think giving any kind of gift to a teacher is complete BS. Back in my day, we didn’t give gifts to teachers. What if a family can’t afford one ? OR Don’t celebrate Christmas? How about improving our terrible academic standing in the world?


December 9th, 2013
10:44 am

C from Marietta, when was back in your day? Cause back in the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s and 90’s I know it was common place.


December 9th, 2013
10:50 am

My take on the subject is that if you feel your child’s teacher needs to be bribed (and I find it hard to believe a teacher would do this), then your child is in the wrong academic setting.


December 9th, 2013
10:50 am

Favoritism in elementary school? Who gives a schlitz?
What does getting an A in the 4th grade get you?


December 9th, 2013
10:53 am

C from Marietta I have no clue what “day” you are talking about. In my day as a student and until the late 90’s every student in the class brought the teacher a gift sure they were small but a warm feeling was behind each gift. They were not bribes. If feel sorry for you that you were raised in the uncaring modern world. To bad you weren’t raised in the good old days.


December 9th, 2013
11:06 am

@ buckheadgirl…thanks for the laugh!

I brought gifts to school in the 1960’s/1970’s. How far back are the good ole days? Just wondering.


December 9th, 2013
11:16 am

Being an exploratory teacher in an inner city school, I’m grateful if I’m told “Happy Holidays” and given a hug! On the other side of the tracks, kids expect teachers to give them gifts. However, I give gifts to teachers on all levels because I appreciate their hard work and dedication. High school teachers are always pleasantly surprised.

Theresa Walsh Giarrusso

December 9th, 2013
12:04 pm

Last year Rose wrote hand notes to each teacher and gave a $10 movie gift card to buy them popcorn and drink over the holidays — They loved it. She even did the school nurse who was especially appreciative.

I love getting notes from my university students.It makes me very happy.

At our elementary school in Gwinnett it got quite competitive between room moms of who was doing the most for their teacher. So much so that they regulated teacher appreciation week to reign it in.


December 9th, 2013
12:26 pm

@ TWG…some folks like to be over the top. I know some who have 4 Christmas trees. Not my style but if it works for them good. Maybe I am a slacker…haha! Ours is not up yet as my daughter puts it up with my husband and did not get to it over Thanksgiving, due to work schedules/finals. It is on the agenda for tomorrow. We will see. I get my Christmas spirit with all the programs I do.

I love the movie tickets and a note. You can get two tickets here at Costco for Regal or AMC for $16.


December 9th, 2013
1:29 pm

Never thought of the small gifts that we gave as “bribes” — doubt the teachers did, either. :-)

It sounds like the school has taken a fairly aggressive stand towards “NO GIFTS” — *shrug* — makes it easier for gift-giving, even if it does de-personalize it.

Atlanta Mom

December 9th, 2013
1:43 pm

I was always grateful for the room parents who stated they would be collecting cash for anyone who wanted to donate. When you have 3 children close in age it becomes another burden to find gifts that were appropriate and not too expensive.
When they entered middle school they started baking cookies and giving them and a note to the teachers they liked. The teachers could eat the cookies or give them away, but at least they knew they were appreciated.


December 9th, 2013
2:05 pm

I don’t consider it a bribe. And I always appreciate when the room mom does a gift card collection or cash collection for one gift from the entire class. Last year, thru cash donations, our first grade teacher got an iPad and extra money to help her add to her classroom science center.

On a side note: What would be your opinion on getting the teacher something for her classroom instead of something for her personal use? Is that a bad idea? Our beloved teacher relocated to a different state and the new teacher has been a stay at home mom for the last several years… so she is trying to get her “teaching legs” back. I didn’t realize how much of the classroom actually belongs to the teacher. The once vibrant classroom filled with books, behavior charts, and educational reminders is now really bare and kind of sad looking. I was going to buy some age appropriate books for the classroom. Would that be rude to buy for the classroom and not something for the teacher’s personal use?


December 9th, 2013
3:21 pm

Motherjanegoose … you are amazing! I am new to this blog. I have been reading your comments this year and they make me happy. I am a shut in because of my weight. I am working very hard to lose weight so I can finally get out of my bed and take care of my kids. There is no way I would embarrass you or me by telling you how much I weigh now. Do you have like a list of inspirational sayings you can give me to help inpire me, mptherjanegoose? Thank you and God bless.


December 9th, 2013
3:23 pm

The times have really changed. I was an elementary school teacher in Cobb County from 1968-2000. I appreciated all of the handwritten notes, cards, and small gifts from my students each year. They loved giving them also. It was always “open mine, read mine”. It really was the thought and gesture that was appreciated.


December 9th, 2013
3:25 pm

Beth, what you are doing is buying a professional tools for her trade. It is like you giving your mechanic a gift card to the Snap-On truck. It will be appreciated and it is a personal gift. It is something they need that you took the time to notice that they needed.

Mother of 2

December 9th, 2013
4:03 pm

My kids have given their teachers gifts, but we stuck to the $25 or under rule. My kids always wrote a message of appreciation with the gift.


December 9th, 2013
4:27 pm

Well, I’m a teacher and I rarely get gifts from my students (EBD classroom). However, I get every students a gift under $10. I also get my boys’ teachers gifts, but I’m re-thinking that this year. There are just so many teachers. Maybe I’ll get my boys to write them a note inside a Christmas card. Then it will really be a gift from them.


December 9th, 2013
7:51 pm

Beth – get her a gift card to a teacher supply store, an office supply store or one of those VISA cards and include a nice note about how you thought she might want to choose her own decorations/supplies.

You would be surprised at the amount of thought that goes into the choices some of us make.


December 9th, 2013
8:38 pm

Teacher gifts are appreciation gifts. I find it hard to imagine that a teacher can be bought for a starbucks card but it might make her hard work feel a little lighter to think that she was appreciated by the mom’s and dad’s of her students.


December 10th, 2013
2:44 pm

My two give a gift to their teacher (s) every year..They usually pick it out, wrap it and give it to them..The gift isn’t from me..The girl bought ink pens this year for them, the boy will probably do gift cards ($10.00 max)..

Mom of Two

December 10th, 2013
7:12 pm

I taught for many, many years. Over those years, I received numerous Christmas gifts – usually Christmas oriented (even though a fair number of the children I taught were not Christians). I never felt they were bribes or treated the children who gave a gift any different from those who didn’t.

If possible, I put a name on each and every ornament, candle holder, mug or other trinket I received. I don’t teach anymore, but opening up the Christmas boxes (many are big popcorn tins I received as gifts) each year is wonderful. It brings back many sweet memories of the children I taught.