Gift giving to teachers is getting out of hand

Updated: 2013-12-25 06:10

By Chen Jia (China Daily USA)

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Gift giving to teachers is getting out of handWith the holiday season upon us, it's not a bad idea to include your kids' teachers on the holiday gift-shopping list. However, parents in both China and the United States are concerned about teacher gift escalation in recent years.

In China, some parents compete to be the most generous Santa in class and their gift budget for teachers can be as high as thousands of dollars in the first-tier cities. Though no one asks for a gift, every family takes showing their appreciation seriously.

Usually, the teacher in charge of the class will get the most gifts, followed by the math teacher and the English teacher.

Veronica Xu, who works for a high-tech startup in Beijing, sent a Chanel handbag and some La Mer masks to her son's kindergarten teacher last Christmas; it cost her nearly two months salary.

"I used to send his teacher some chocolate I'd buy overseas until I heard the gift competition among Chinese parents had been upgraded," she recalled.

"There were 38 kids in the class, so my son might be unable to impress the only teacher. I hoped these expensive gifts would get the teacher to like him more," she said.

In 2013, Xu moved to the US for work and her son entered a local preschool in San Francisco.

During the season of giving, she received a surprising letter from the school's parents association asking parents to think about honoring excellent teachers as well as all of the staff that may go unrecognized on a daily basis but play a large role in the care of their preschoolers -- lunch prep, cleaning staff, desk staff and the fabulous administrators.

"This year, as we have done for the last three years, we will be putting out boxes to allow our families to contribute to the HOT (Honor Our Teachers) Fund. We've borrowed this idea from another preschool," the letter said.

"You will find most preschools and Kindergartens in the Bay Area thank their teachers during the holidays in this same way. As in past years, the teachers really appreciate the money and can do with it as they please," it said.

This is how the HOT Fund works: Instead of each family going out and buying individual gifts for the teachers in their daughter or son's class (such as coffee mugs or flowers), the school collects cash donations from the parents and gives each teacher, as well as the support staff, a cash bonus.

"Families are welcome to give any amount! If parents need guidance, a good rule of thumb is to determine how much you would spend on individual gifts for each teacher and then give that amount in cash instead," Kristin Lemaster, a parent association coordinator said. "Contributing amounts will be kept confidential. Everyone's participation is 100 percent voluntary."

As early as the week of Dec 2, the room parent coordinator and room moms sent home a reminder note with an envelope. A special holiday collection box for the envelopes was displayed at the school front desk starting Dec 4.

Relieved from shopping and wrapping, Xu said she finally doesn't need to worry if teachers receiving extravagant gifts might give preferential treatment to certain students.

According to a recent report on Fox 5, school board members in Arlington County, Virginia, have heard "grumbling" from parents that some gifts to teachers were too extravagant this holiday season.

"[It's] the iPads, usually. When the iPads first came out, [and were given as gifts to teachers] that was something that raised eyebrows," a school board member said.

It was reported that the board in Arlington has drawn up a policy limiting gifts to teachers to no more than $100 a year from any single family or individual or booster organization.

Of course, handmade gifts are always priceless, so family-baked goods are exempt from the $100 annual maximum.

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