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What holiday gifts do we get for teachers and day-care workers?

(María Alconada Brooks/The Washington Post; iStock)

Q: Do you have opinions on what gifts are best for teachers and day-care workers? Is cash appropriate? If so, how much?

A: Do I have opinions? Friend, you’ve come to the right place. Thank you for offering one of the easiest questions that has ever been asked in my almost 10 years of writing the column.

“Is cash appropriate?” YES. Yes. And yes.

When it comes to anyone who works with or near children, cash is appropriate. Why? Because they are grossly underpaid. In many cases, day-care workers are paid less than someone serving coffee at Dunkin’. And while public school teachers fare better in pay, the pandemic and our political climate have resulted in a teacher shortage. Public school teachers are, largely, overworked, threatened with violence and managing issues that they aren’t meant to handle, and still spend up to $500 of their own money for basic supplies (sometimes more).

So yes, cash works.

How much you give is personal. It could be based, for example, on your experience with the teachers or your income.

You should, of course, be sure that your district or day care doesn’t have any strict rules around cash as gifts. Next, make sure that your school or class hasn’t already created a group gift collection. If they haven’t, companies like Cheddar Up make it easy to collect from parents. (This is usually the role of the class parent.) You aren’t obligated to do a group gift; you can purchase your own gift cards to Amazon, Target or other companies that people frequently use.

And as a former teacher, I truly did appreciate every mug, homemade cookie and bath salt, but the gifts I cherished the most were notes from students and parents. A heartfelt and short note is balm to a weary teacher’s soul and, when paired with a gift card, makes for a lovely gift.

I would recommend having your child write thank yous (or have them dictate if they aren’t writing yet) for their teachers, and art works, too. By having our children, of all ages, write something short and specific, (“Thank you for letting me turn in my homework late,” or “Thank you for taking us to the zoo, I loved the elephants,”) reminds teachers how much they matter. I would make it fun; get some hot chocolate, put on your favorite holiday music, get or make some cards, have some good pens and have a little “thank you” session in your family. Your children may eye-roll or sigh, but it’s worth it to try, and the parents have to participate by writing notes to their important people, too, like trash collectors and mail carriers.

Look at that — everyone wins, and you parent your kids in a way that teaches them empathy, kindness and appreciation.

Good luck and happy holidays!

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