Fern Shen's June 15 front-page feature, "Teacher Gifts Run the Gamut -- But No More Mugs, Please; Some Area Schools Rein in the Largess," took me back to my school days in small-town Ohio in the 1930s and '40s.
Back then, on the teacher's birthday, everybody surreptitiously brought a piece of fruit to school. Students engaged in much whispering and plotting to concoct a ruse to get the teacher called from the classroom for a few minutes. When the teacher returned, the students rolled the fruit with great gusto down the aisle with cries of "Surprise!" My dad was a teacher, and for one week a year we ate a lot of slightly bruised fruit.
After my father died unexpectedly, my mother found comfort in the many people who told her how much he had meant to them as a teacher. One classmate of mine, whose father died when he was young, said he thought of my dad as a surrogate father.
My mother, also a teacher, died several years ago at age 100. I will never forget the stream of visitors, one of whom told me, "Your mother was the best teacher I ever had. It was in a one-room schoolhouse, and I was in the first grade."
Now that's a real thank-you gift!
VIVIAN D. SMITH
One of the most appreciated expressions of thanks to a teacher is a letter to the principal with examples of what wonderful things the teacher did. A copy of this letter is usually placed in the teacher's personnel file and used for performance reviews and promotions.
Teachers get far too many letters of complaint as opposed to letters of praise.
DIANE E. EPSTEIN
The Lower Merion Education Association handles end-of-year gifts to teachers in an enlightened way: It doesn't allow them.
Each year, the home and school associations organize teacher-appreciation breakfasts and lunches at the school. The parents do the cooking. And although parents aren't allowed to make gifts to teachers, they can donate books to the school libraries, and the school district encourages them to make donations to the school district's scholarship fund in the name of a favorite teacher.
This is a winning idea for all parties.
Merion Station, Pa.
I was appalled by the message parents send to their children by giving extravagant gifts to teachers. A thank-you note or a token gift is one thing; a $100 gift certificate or a two-week vacation quite another.
If parents really want to give the teachers a nice gift, try this: Once a day, from September until June, send them a well-behaved, well-mannered, well-adjusted child who gets plenty of attention at home and has parents who are involved in schoolwork. That's a gift that every teacher will appreciate all year long.
I have taught in at-risk public schools and elite private schools. For most teachers, any gift is appreciated. My most memorable gift was from a third-grader whose field trips I had paid for because she could not afford the fees. She gave me a filthy, very used stuffed animal with a little note that said, "I love you."
However, I also appreciated the more expensive gifts from the more privileged students I taught in private schools. I was disgusted when a former headmaster of mine sent a letter to parents requesting that they give homemade gifts or small tokens of appreciation to teachers so as not to make the gift-giving competitive -- this at a school that printed parents' names in its annual reports in tiers according to how much each family gave.
This same headmaster also had no problem with a silent auction in which parents outbid one another for items they had donated, such as time at vacation homes, expensive cars and trips around the world. The message to parents seemed to be: "Spend all the money you want on the institution, as long as you don't spend it on the people who teach and take care of your kids all day."
Everyone agrees that teachers are not paid enough, and they don't receive bonuses or promotions per se. So why shouldn't they receive a gift of appreciation -- of the parents' choosing -- for a job well done, even if it is a mug?
MAISI PEARSON JULIAN