Step away

            Today is Black Friday here in the U.S.  Traditionally, this is the day that Americans, groggy from their obscene over-eating, head out to malls and Target and Costco where they indulge in obscene over-purchasing.  The naysayers would have us believe that this year we are all too freaked out by the economy to actually do any holiday shopping, but somehow I suspect a few of you are about to fire up the old Pontiac and head over there, anyhow.

            While you are at the mall, strolling past tween-targeted displays of skimpy clothing and kiosks filled with useless electronics, you will come upon a Yankee Candle.  Actually, you will probably smell it first, that distinct mix of fake spice and wax.  You will look down at your list of obligatory gifts, and you will see the names of several of your children’s teachers on it.  You will think to yourself, “If I go in here, I can cross three gifts off the list all at once.”

            As a former teacher, as a mother, as an environmentalist, I beg you: Please, do not give in to temptation.  If you buy that teacher a scented candle, here is what will happen.  The cellophane wrapper and ribbon will end up in a landfill.  The candle will go onto a shelf or into a box with all the other scented candles the poor woman has received over the years.  There, it will gather dust, forgotten except for once a year when the teacher opens the box to shove in the latest installment of holiday gifts.  Decades from now, her heirs will find the stash as they clean out her house to put it on the market.  And, unless someone has found a use for scented candles by that time, it too will end up in a landfill.

            Step away from the Yankee Candle.

            Your child’s teacher does not want another vanilla-pumpkin-spiced candle.  She knows it, I know it, and, deep down, you know it, too.  While we’re at it, let’s go over a few other things she does not want.  She does not want a coffee mug.  She does not want yet another $5 picture frame.  She does not want a gift book of sweet platitudes to put in her bathroom.  And, I am so sorry to inform you, she does not want homemade cookies, although in that last case she’ll appreciate the effort before throwing them away.  Because, you see, you were not the only one with that idea, and if she eats all the fudge and cookies that parents prepare for her, she will not fit her teaching clothes anymore.  On her salary, she really cannot afford to buy new ones.

            This person (who I have gendered female for simplicity’s sake) spends all day trying to educate your precious offspring.  Please, please, get her something useful.  Get her a freakin’ gift card.

            “But,” you protest, “that’s so impersonal.”  To which I answer: who gives a shit?  If it is the thought that counts, show the woman that you think enough of her to give her something to help make up for her pathetic salary.

            And, please, spare me the argument that you don’t want to spend very much.  I know times are hard, really I do.  But, the first place to economize is not your kids’ teachers, nor, for that matter, is it your postman, your trash collector, your place of worship, or your favorite charity.  The first place to cut is the gifts you give immediate family.  I’m not suggesting you deny your children holiday gifts, but do they really need as many as you have on that list?  Can they do without a fancy video game so you can instead show gratitude to those around you?  And, if the budget is tight, can you and your spouse agree not to give one another gifts this year?

            Of course, many people have already made these cuts, and I am certainly not suggesting you must spend a lot on teachers. For those who really cannot afford to spend anything, I promise the teacher will know that and be grateful for simply a kind word, but the rest of you can funnel the cost of baking ingredients into s small gift card that will not go bad in a few days.  If all the parents in the class gave a very small contribution, you could probably get a pretty nice gift card, which I guarantee the teacher will appreciate more than twelve scented candles, eight batches of cookies, and a couple of coffee mugs.

            If you don’t want to organize the class or perhaps all the parents in the group despise one another, consider a small gift card to a place where $5 can actually buy something: a coffee shop or a card store. Or, if you must buy a tangible gift, how about stationery?  After all, she will need something on which she can compose thank you notes for all those scented candles.

20 responses to “Step away

  1. Amen! As the daughter of a teacher, I saw more than my share of useless gifts accumulate in our house only to be regifted or disposed of at the New Year. Gift cards to a book store, coffee shop, or even a school supply store are so much better!

  2. The last few years the parents have chipped in for and all gotten a nice amount gift card for the teacher. I think that is a great idea. Something they can actually use.

  3. Well, I love scented candles. But, I also like to pick out my own scented candles. And I love cookies. I too was the daughter of a teacher, and every holiday she came home with pounds of baked goods. You know what those are good for? Table treats for holiday visitors. Saved my mom hours in the kitchen, the guests never knew the difference, and the baked goods were always enjoyed.

    But yes, gift cards, always a good way to go. 🙂

  4. Ahhh… but that only works for people who actually have holiday visitors. 🙂

  5. This made me laugh, Em, but it’s also so true.

    We give $10 gift cards and every teacher is always thrilled to get them. Even $5 cards to Starbuck’s or a bookstore can buy a little treat that a teacher might not normally get herself.

  6. As someone who has been a teacher for many years– I concur wholeheartedly. A handwritten note is much appreciated. A book donated to the classroom is great and useful. My own choices for my kids’ teachers: gift certificate to local independent book store in winter & ice cream store gift certificate at end of the year.

  7. Emily,
    consumption has plunged, from what I hear. It was down 1% last month. 1%. Think about that. In what other domain would we consider a drop of 1% anything remarkable? But I digress.
    As the husband of a teacher, I do see some remarkably banal and useless things come home after the holidays. One other possibility – if gift cards don’t work? Relieve the teacher of the class for fifteen to thirty minutes while you tell a story or engage the kids in a project. A chance to catch her breath in the very middle of her day? Priceless.

  8. We always give a gift card now. Sometimes the whole classes chips in, but either way, I know the teacher will be able to choose something she/he wants.

    Possibly liquor, even. Surely by December, it sounds pretty appealing.

  9. YES, YES, YES!!!! (Meg Ryan impersonation) WE LOVE the gift cards. (and liquor would work.)

    I loved this post. for real.

  10. LOL… the years I worjked as a teacher’s aide, I got SO MANY candles! I still have some of them, because I don’t particularly like to burn candles. I feel like if I light them up, I have to sit there and babysit them to make sure they don’t burn down the house! I’m slightly paranoid about fire.
    Another gift many teachers might appreciate would be something for their classroom. For instance, you could donate a copy of a favorite book, and inscribe inside it something like, “For Mrs. Jones, from Timmy Smith, 2008.” Thats something special that the teacher can remember the child by, that won’t end up cluttering up the teacher’s house or desk or getting thrown away, and can be enjoyed by other children for years to come!

  11. I really appreciate this because every year I struggle with finding a unique gift and each year I get a gift card because I don’t want it to be wasted and I figure a gift caard to target or borders or barnes and noble will actually be used. So I get it feeling guilty, like it’s thoughtless, but I’m thinking it’s not. And you just reinforced that it’s not. So thanks!

    WAs it you who sent me the link of green gifts? If not, I’ll send it to you. Some cool ideas.

  12. gift cards are the best inventions, EVER.

  13. Thanks. This is the first year that I feel on my own about this…unless the class parents come through with some idea (and maybe tomorrow I need to poke them). The daycare that my kid has been at always did a group gift of cash from the parents…useful and somehow more seemly than individual gifts of cash.

  14. Funny. This post of yours followed this one in my reader: http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2008/11/holiday-shoppin.html

  15. The parents in my daughter’s class do this every year at Christmas and the end of the year… We always end up with a nice, tidy amount to give the teacher in gift card form, plus a few extras: books, spa robes, etc. We only ask for $5.00 per family, some give more. With an average of 20 students per class, we always get more than $100 for each teacher. It is usually closer to $200. That makes a very nice gift.

  16. OMG, I’m so bad at this. I’m the one that goes to Yankee Candle for my son’s teacher. Shoot me now. LOL

  17. I am tired of the mugs, candles, etc. Why not just cash? I have SO many notes. And homemade goods usually just get thrown out, as teachers assume the children and their germs have “helped out” with the baking. As for bookstores, not all teachers like to read. Even a GAS CARD would be better. Yes, it’s the thought that counts, but when you have 23 “thoughts” every year for 25 years…..

  18. This cracked me up, Emily. My dad has been a 1st grade teacher since the dawn of time and I was just commenting on his extensive mug collection when I was visiting over the weekend. I’m forwarding this post to him for his enjoyment.

  19. Funny! Oddly enough, my son has never once permitted me to buy a present for one of his teachers. I think he thinks that you don’t reward jailors, which is unfair, but not in the mind of a small boy. So poor teachers have had to make do with my sincere words of gratitude. As a teacher, I have to say I would much rather have a card with a nice message in it than anything else.

  20. I am laughing at this one. I know where the candle store is in our mall, just so I can make sure to not walk within five stores of it. If they put my favorite store next to a Yankee store, I’d never walk in my favorite store again. Just walking by the place sets off my Asthma.

    We do gift cards and generally Target or a grocery store ones.