Volume 17 • Issue 31 | Dec. 24 - 30, 2004


Our teachers deserve gifts worth more than $5

By Angela Benfield

Two weeks ago, I received a note in my eight-year-old son’s backpack. It was from his “class parent” requesting $20 from every family in the class. Having had children in school for a number of years now, I was expecting it. This is how everyone chips in for a gift for the teacher during the holidays. I placed the money in an envelope, printed my son’s name on the back, and put it in his folder. Parents are not required to participate in this group gift; and actually, some of them don’t. However, I think that $20 is a very reasonable amount of money to contribute to any person who puts up with my son.

Each class at P.S. 89 usually has a “celebration” every year sometime before the winter break. This is when parents come into the classroom, and the children show off the work they have been doing over the past few months. Parents usually like to gage how well their child is doing by looking at the work of other children in the class, too. Invariably, there is always some kid who makes parents cringe because his artwork is advanced enough to be shown at a gallery. Then there’s always another who gives them hope when they realize that their child is not the only one who hasn’t mastered the art of the stick figure.

Sometimes at the celebrations, poems or essays are read, or plays are performed. When the kids are finished, every one digs into bagels, cream cheese and muffins (and if you’re lucky enough to get a really good class parent, you may even get coffee). Then, the class parent asks for everyone’s attention; and thanks the teacher and gives her a card filled with all the money that was collected. This is how we show our appreciation and bribe her to stay for the rest of the school year.

Now, Schools Chancellor Joel Klein wants to interfere with this tradition. Or, at the very least, he wants to put a damper on it. A few days ago, the press released the news that the Department of Education put a $5 per student limit on gifts to teachers.

When I first heard the news of this cap, I became angry that anyone would have the nerve to tell me how much of a gift I am allowed to give to any other person; especially someone that is such an important part of my child’s life. Then, I became annoyed they would set it at such a ridiculously low amount. So, I sent Mr. Klein an email telling him just what I thought of his policy. To my amazement, he sent me a reply!

Apparently, angry parents went to the Conflicts of Interest Board to complain that they were being pressured into contributing more for a gift than they wanted to give (assumably by the class parent — a.k.a. class bully). The Conflicts of Interest Board cited the law that prevents public employees from receiving valuable gifts and asked the Dept. of Education to clarify an amount. I wish these parents had gone to the doorman’s union to have a gift limit imposed. I would love to see the look on a doorman’s face as he opened a card to find Abe Lincoln winking up at him instead of Ben Franklin.

Understandably, $100, $50 or even $35 can be a strain on some families, especially at this time of the year, but to limit a gift to $5? You can’t even buy a sandwich in New York City for $5! Okay, okay, they are getting contributions from upwards of 25 students, but let’s compare that with some of the bonuses that top executives in this country get. How can teachers be worth so much less? And what kind of message does it send? I wouldn’t feel appreciated if I were a teacher. Don’t we already have a shortage of enough good ones in this city without giving them another reason to run away from the system?

Other parents in the school who heard of this policy were just as angry as I was and told me they were going to ignore it. One even mentioned something about telling Joel Klein to kiss her little “you know what” before she would give a cheap gift like that. But that’s unfairly putting the teacher in the awkward position of accepting a gift that is in violation of the law. The only way they should keep it, according to the policy, is if it is used for classroom supplies. But how do you use a Banana Republic gift certificate to purchase glue sticks and crayons?

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