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Who Wants a “Guilt Gift” Anyway?


My desk is littered with small gifts that students (and others in education) have given me over the years.  One of my favorites is a “decision maker.” It’s a small wheel with an arrow you can spin to point to various decisions like “yes,” “no,” “maybe,” “see your analyst,” “pass the buck,” and “fire someone.”  When I was a principal I kept it on the table where I sat with students who were sent to me for discipline.  More than one kid asked, “Do you use this?” 

Tower of treats I have books, a carved wooden duck, a small gold whale, a tiny porcelain dish, framed pictures, two small clocks, a Cross pen, and apples brass and glass (some inscribed).  There is a fragile, lovely glass globe from a fragile and lovely foreign exchange student.  One of my favorite gifts came from a crusty old superintendent who was also the mayor of his village.  It’s a gilded spike and weighs about half a pound.  An art teacher gave me a rough crystal pendant, which, she said, could be used as a paperweight.  “It would also make an excellent projectile,” she added.  Probably not as good as the spike.

Gifts that came with the holiday season were often edible and homemade.  Cookies, fruitcake, zucchini bread, chocolate, nuts, fudge – all were opened and put out on the office counter for anyone – students or adults.   The president of the board of education brought 3 dozen warm bagels in a wicker basket, which he left on the counter. For a few years the wife of another board member brought wonderful homemade Italian cookies, but that stopped when her husband wasn’t elected board president (the bagel guy was re-elected, but not because of the bagels).

I started thinking about all these little gifts thanks to Liana Heitin, who caught the parent question to Dear Prudence and Miss Eyre’s riff on it.  Basically, the parent wanted to know during this “guilt gift season” if she had to buy a gift for her child’s teacher.  If she didn’t, the parent wanted to know, would there be consequences for her child?  Only, says, Miss Eyre, if her teachers’ lives are “so empty and devoid of meaning that they need a Whitman’s Sampler from a twelve-year-old’s parents to make them feel better.”  Prudence recommends a nice note, and I completely agree.  Or nothing, I might add.  A box of chocolates isn’t going to make up for the parent’s suggestion that teachers are basically extortionists.

All the stuff that litters my desk means something.  Not one was a generic holiday gift, but a small, inexpensive memento to remind me of something or someone specific. 

I also have a drawer full of nice notes.  The other ones I pitched.




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