Beyond Gift Cards: A Teacher's Holiday Wish List

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Holiday gifts for teachers tend to be sweet (boxes of chocolates, homemade breads, candies), fragrant (soaps, bath gels, candles) or very endearing (art or cards made by the children themselves). Although all gifts are appreciated, many teachers would ask for things that don't fit so easily in a gift bag (and that would not add inches to their waists).

Topping the wish list would be for all parents to attend parent nights. Yes, they can be boring and adults might once again find themselves doodling in a classroom, but they are so important to building a bridge of communication with the teacher. Parents might even encounter a few surprises, such as learning that the talked-about English paper was assigned three weeks ago, not the day before it was due. To prepare for parent night, teachers often work long hours decking their classrooms with displays of students' work for all to enjoy.

Another tall order would be for parents to also attend parent-teacher conferences, even if your child is 16 or 17 and even if he or she pleads with you not to go. We are not calling parents in to tell them who has been naughty or nice, or to say how many assignments a child did or did not do -- although it is important to know these things -- but to get feedback so that we can be better teachers to their children. Parent-teacher conferences usually take only a few minutes, and yet they can make a big difference in a child's education.

Smaller items on the list -- we can't forget the stocking stuffers -- include keeping our students' TV watching to a minimum, encouraging more reading, requiring more physical activity and healthier lunches, and allowing less time to be spent on video games and more on homework. What a great holiday gift any of these would be!

I can't say that I don't love gift cards to my favorite stores or donations for new class materials. Teachers at my school are still thankful for the electric teapot one parent purchased for our staff lounge last year. But a holiday note of appreciation written by a student or parent is a gift treasured for years. E-mails and phone calls of thanks resonate, too.

The holidays are a great time to spread some joy to those who have made a difference in your child's life. As class sizes grow and teachers endure longer hours of school planning and grading, a small gift goes a long way toward helping teachers feel that their hard work is recognized. But remember that we appreciate parents' presence as well as their presents.

-- Zahra Baig


The writer teaches at Bryant Woods Montessori School in Columbia. Her e-mail address is

© 2006 The Washington Post Company