If You Give Your Teacher a Gift….

Your teacher gets a year in jail.  Or a $6,000 fine.  If you teach in Alabama at any rate. According to ABC News, a new law in Alabama, accepting a gift from a student could potentially constitute a violation of their ethics law.  Bah Humbug!

“In an advisory opinion Wednesday, the Ethics Commission said “hams, turkeys or gift cards with a specific monetary value are not permissible.” Items of nominal value, such as homemade cookies, coffee mugs and fruit baskets, are acceptable. The commission didn’t give a dollar amount for student-teacher gifts.” – ABC News, Alabama Law Limits Students’ Gifts to Teachers, Dec 8/2011

And then, in an ironic twist of events, I received my first Christmas gift from a student today.  A bag filled with yummy chocolates.  Would I be in violation of the law?  And why is a fruit basket ok but a ham isn’t?  I don’t know about your fruit values, but up here in Canada, a fruit basket could potentially cost you FAR more than a ham.

Why does a turkey say you are unethical, but a coffee mug says…..that’s ok.  You’re good.  What if the coffee mug is made out of gold?  Huh? Huh?

Ok, I’m hoping you sense my sarcasm here.  All I have to say really is…..being this close to Christmas I’ve been getting significantly stressed so thanks for the laugh.  I needed it.

My students think this is ridiculous by the way.  Was this seriously a conversation in the Ethic’s Commissioner’s office?  How long did they spend deciding what constitutes a violation of ethics on the teacher’s part?  I would have loved to have heard the conversation.

“What about Christmas hams?”

“Are you kidding?  Corruption!  How can a teacher ethically accept a Christmas ham?”

“Ok, scratch that off the list.  How about fruit?”

“Are we talking fruitcake or fruit baskets?”

“Um….does anyone really eat fruitcake?”

“Let’s say yes to fruit baskets.  You’re right.  No one eats fruitcake.”

Apparently the reason for the law, according to the article, is it “protects teachers against accusations of favoritism to students who give them big gifts and avoids embarrassment for low-income students.” – ABC News, Alabama Law Limits Students’ Gifts to Teachers, Dec 8/2011

Way back in my memory banks is the face of a little Grade 7 boy who wanted desperately to get me a Christmas gift but he just couldn’t afford one.  Instead, he spent weeks learning a magic trick and perfecting it.  His gift to me was that after he performed the trick, he taught me how to do it.  And I still wow and amaze my students with that card trick today. Some of the best gifts I have ever received didn’t cost a thing.

My students and I poked a little fun at this law today but the underlying element is real.  If you are a student who wants to give your teacher a “gift” but you’re on a non-existent budget…..here are some of the best free things you can give us:

1.  A smile.

2.  Your best effort on a project/assignment.

3.  A high five in the hallway.

4.  A book you bought….for yourself!  And then tell me all about it after you read it. (ok, I guess if you buy the book this isn’t free but the conversation afterwards is)

5.  Coming to school consistently.

6.  Participation to the best of your ability in class.

7.  Something you made/created

It really is true that it’s the thought that counts when it comes to gift giving.  And this isn’t tied to Christmas, it’s an every day thing.  Each smile you give me is a gift.  Each day you show up and try, it’s a gift.

I do have gifts for my students this year, just small tokens really.  They didn’t cost me much in value but the message that I want to GIFT to them is:  “You matter to me.”

There is no dollar sign you can attach to that.

From those who read this….I would love to know what your favorite memory is of a “free” gift you have received at any point.



About Cherra-Lynne Olthof

I've been a middle school teacher for my entire career (which began in 2001). Like my students, I too am a life long learner. My goals include helping my students to achieve their goals, support them in their learning, and to encourage them to think "beyond the grade".
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