A new wrinkle in the annual question about what’s an appropriate holiday gift for a teacher: Does that gift ever cross over into bribe territory?

Will you buy your child’s teacher a gift this year? (Paul Thomas/BLOOMBERG)

Some states and individual schools ask that parents and teachers respect certain gift-giving guidelines — D.C., Maryland and Virginia  do not have specific guidelines on teachers and gift giving — but Alabama’s law is far tougher than most. A teacher who is caught in violation could receive jail time and a fine of up to $6000.

According to an Associated Press story the Alabama Ethics Commission said teachers should have to abide by the same conflict-of-interest laws as lobbyists because “The suggestion that it is harmless for a school child to give a Christmas gift to their teacher ignores the potential for abuse.”

Certainly, schools sometimes witness competitive gift-giving by parents, with lavish presents that can sometimes be inappropriate. But how do teachers perceive them?

For some perspective, I asked a friend who has worked in elementary schools in different parts of the country, including this region, about her gift-receiving experience and whether she ever felt that a gift was meant as a message. In exchange, I promised her anonymity. Here’s her response:


“I’ve seen it all,  from tattered and beloved personal items like stuffed animals ... to a Hermes Scarf, $300 Macy’s gift card, coach wristlet, Italian wool scarf and gloves, etc,” she said.

The worst gift: When a parent invited her to an expensive meal with her student. “That was uncomfortable and inappropriate but I went because I didn’t know how to handle it.”

The best gift: A framed poem from a student.

Of the lavish presents, she said, “I loved those gifts but definitely felt uncomfortable about them.”

She went on:

“I don’t think teachers treat the kids any differently based on gifts but when a parent goes overboard (especially the parent of a difficult student) It puts the teacher in an awkward position, like you owe them something. But I think most teachers know enough not to let gifts interfere with the cold hard facts about their child’s behavior. learning, grades, etc.”

What do you think? Is there a potential for abuse here? Should gift-giving limits be mandated?