Teachers’ pet peeves: Holiday gifts gone bad

One day last December, little Morris — with shining eyes and a broad smile — skipped into my classroom toting a gaily wrapped box. With the impatience and exuberance typical of a toddler, he insisted that I open the gift right away. Before I even untied the bow, he announced that it was Hanukkah cookies that he and his mother had made. Of course, he insisted that I try one immediately.

With a dramatic flair, I took a big bite, expecting to sigh with delight over the deliciousness. Instead, it was all I could do not to spit out the cookie in front of him and his proud mom. I gamely chewed and swallowed. Apparently the cooking oil used in the recipe had gone bad, leading to a rancid batch.

Although I usually really enjoy a tasty homemade treat at holiday time, this time the thought and effort, though appreciated, truly eclipsed the gift itself, which was hastily filed in the trash as soon as Morris and his mom departed.

The holidays are here again, and along with them, for those of us in the education field, come Teacher Gifts. The Teacher Gift has become an industry unto itself, with entire catalogs devoted to honoring your child’s beloved teacher with anything from jewelry proclaiming the wearer to be “The World’s Best Teacher” to dresses and shoes emblazoned with “Bus Driver” or “Librarian.”

Teacher Gifts can be thoughtful, amusing or inadvertently insulting. In the latter category would fall the low-fat, low-cal cookbook that was given to one of the teachers in my school. Guess that was a hint! Or the collection of bright, brassy makeup that we all received, with purple eye shadows and orangey lipsticks that would have been suitable for a Lady of the Night working the streets. Then there’s the personal care kit that included deodorant and mouthwash. Hmmmm ... a comment on my personal hygiene?

Homemade gifts are always touching gifts, such as drawings and ornaments, potholders made from loops on a little loom, cookies and breads (when they are made with ingredients that haven't gone sour).

Some gifts are real keepers, like cashmere scarves, tasteful jewelry, stationery and note paper (if this had been accompanied by the aforementioned stamps, it would not have been such an odd gift). All teachers put stationery to good use in order to thank the students for their generous gifts. Body lotions and bath gels are hugely popular gifts, and are useful. Bubble-bath crystals, however, not so much. Who’s got time to soak in a tub these days?

Here’s what most teachers do not need: Mugs! Figurines! Candles!  Framed 8x10 portraits of your child!

Some favorite gifts: Gift cards to malls, restaurants or bookstores, which can be group gifts from the class, keeping individual costs low. Also, anything homemade that shows some thought, time and/or culinary skill went into it, and letters of appreciation, even if dictated to a parent by a child who can’t write yet.

So in the end, the best gifts do not have to be expensive. The memorable ones come from the heart. OK, some are from the garage.