A friend asked me, a few days ago, about “back to school teacher gifts.” She wanted to know if these were A Thing at my school. My shocked response quickly clarified that these are very much NOT A Thing at my school, but a quick scan of social media and mommy blogs showed me that they appear to be a growing THING, out there in the world. WHO CAME UP WITH THIS FRESH HELL?
Let’s back up for a second: I’m a girl who likes presents, both the giving and the receiving. I pride myself on selecting and planning thoughtful, personal gifts for others, and I accept gifts with enthusiasm, gratitude and grace. As a classroom teacher, I enjoyed and appreciated the tokens of appreciation I received from my students and their families over the years. I. Like. Presents.
And knowing THAT about me should add even more weight to my words, when I say this:
I’m a teacher (ok, I’m now an admin, and out of the classroom, but I remain a teacher, in my heart, as well as by certification and profession…), and I’m here to set the record straight:
We do not need gifts, from students or parents, on the first day of school.
The first day of school is already full of enough pressure and stress, for parents and students. As a parent, you have had to get your family out of summer mode. You have bought new school clothes and new school supplies, and you may even be helping your child face a new school, altogether. You have sorted out your family’s routines so that everybody gets where they need to go, on time, with the right stuff, on that first day. Many of you have taken a little time off work to accompany your little ones to the classroom door. The last thing you need to do or remember is to package up some mints or hand sanitizer, or candy, in a cute jar with a pun-ny note.
And if you do find yourself with a little extra pocket of time, in the waning days of summer, please don’t waste it researching, buying, or making, a gift for me. Take one more trip to the pool with your kids. Read an extra chapter of Harry Potter together. Eat ice cream. Count shooting stars. Please don’t spend one minute trying to figure out how to make me a vase out of crayons. (Insider tip: my house is not decorated in a crayon-chalk-apple motif…) Take those crayons, sit down and colour with your kiddo. If colouring is not your thing: watch a movie. Go to a new playground. Sit on the front step and eat a popsicle. Soak up every last minute of summer.
Here’s the thing: for me, and for most teachers, the first day of school is already on par with Christmas. It is already a day full of gifts, one we have anticipated for weeks. We have spent days preparing our classrooms, writing the children’s names on 847 different things, sharpening pencils, arranging chairs, selecting the book for our first read-aloud of the year. We have pored over our class lists for at least a week, trying to guess what personalities and faces and quirks lay behind those inscrutable names. Ida. Marco. Polly. Tyrone.
We have been waiting, anxiously and excitedly, for them to arrive. We have endured hours of meetings, late nights of planning. We have awakened at night in a cold sweat, after the ubiquitous first-day-of-school teacher nightmare: that the first day of school arrived, and we were not ready (Seriously. We ALL have this dream at least once every year). Our hallways and classrooms and gyms and libraries have echoed with the sparse and hollow footsteps of grownups for DAYS. Our schools are not schools until the children arrive.
And then, finally, FINALLY, on that first day: the cars and buses pull up, the playground fills. The gifts we have been waiting for are finally here. In stiff new shoes, too-big backpacks, freshly-scrubbed faces, shy smiles, our gifts file in.
The children — your children– are the gifts.
On this day, nothing, NOTHING you could possibly bring me, can compare to the gift that is your child’s presence in my classroom. His fresh haircut, her tight pigtails, their chatter and laughter and endless questions… the water fight at the sink, the spilled milk at lunch time, even those messes are gifts, on this magical day.
Later in the year, there will be time for presents. Once we know each other, feel free to drop off a Starbucks card at Halloween, or some fresh Sharpies on concert day. I’m sure it won’t take long for you to learn about my weakness for chocolate chip cookies. We have a road to travel together, this year, and along the way, we may exchange some gifts.
But right now, on the first day of school?
Your child is the only gift I need.