The Teacher Gift Taboo–What’s So Wrong With Cash?


It’s the most wonderful time of the year–the time when we parents find ourselves just a teensy bit busy with all the holiday to-dos.

I mean seriously–it’s the holidays, the end of school term and the time to use up that money in the flexible spending account. This week my schedule contains 2 potlucks, a wreath decorating contest, a school sing along, one trapeze show, a teacher conference, a dentist appointment, a parade, the elf on the shelf, a tree to water, cats to knock out of the tree, a broken oven, one head cold, a neighborhood happy hour… Plus my full-time job and the three kids, one of whom won’t talk, one of whom talks too much, and the other one just wants to text.

So here’s one place I make things simple for myself: teacher gifts.

I write a sincere note. One year, for Vivi’s teachers, it went something like: “I appreciate all you do to make Vivi’s days fun and interesting. I know she can be a handful so I’m guessing you could use a drink. Have one on us!” Then I slide in some folding money. Gift = done.

When the Cool Kids were discussing teacher gifts and I confessed this, a couple of eyebrows went up. (Libby had to put down her glue gun and glitter holster to clutch her pearls.) Cash? That’s so…not Pinteresty.

I admire people who have the time, skill and creativity to knit a scarf, fold it to look like a cupcake, wrap it in cellophane, print a thematically colored and personalized tag in a festive font, find a hole punch shaped like a snowflake and punch that bad boy right in the center then tie it all up with locally sourced organic raffia…but that’s not my forte.

Card, pen, $20. DONE.

Why not gift cards instead of cash? Well, gift cards are limited. What if they don’t LIKE Panera or Chipotle or Fatz? What if I give a Target card to a Wal-Mart shopper? What if Kroger is too far away?


There’s always origami if you insist on being fancy!

Cash is flexible–you can spend it on a book, a pedicure, a bottle of champagne. Or something more practical. A few years back, I got a note from one of Vivi’s teachers, who told me that the money we gave her paid for a tank of gas that meant she could afford to go home one extra weekend. I will never forget that.

So what do you think about cash gifts? Too tacky? Not enough thought behind it? Or is it the way to say “Treat Yourself to What YOU Want?”

I’ll be over here smacking the cat out of the tree and warming up for the sing along with my freakishly white teeth. Discuss!

32 thoughts on “The Teacher Gift Taboo–What’s So Wrong With Cash?

  1. Karen Tatum

    Rock on. I don’t know any teacher that wouldn’t rather get a sincere note and some cash than something Pinteresty. Who are we trying to impress with all that faldaral (sp) anyway? Ourselves? Other parents? Stick with what you are doing. You are on the money!

  2. Cindy

    Um… As a former teacher and current SAHM married to a teacher, cash is awesome!!! I would be doing a happy dance! 🙂

  3. Jessica

    Nowadays, they do have VISA gift cards and MC gift cards. They are accepted anywhere a regular VISA/MC would be accepted, and they can be personalized if you want. I find giving them less “tacky” than cash, although the origami idea rocks!

  4. Mandy

    You have found what works for you and as you pointed out, it is appreciated. Just keep doing what works for you and anyone who doesn’t agree can sit on a puddle of glue.

  5. Tracy

    I have to buy all the gifts for the office Christmas party, which this year included TVS, Ipads, Fit Bit bracelet thingys, Keurig coffee makers, gift cards, etc. After shopping, wrapping, hauling and decorating for the people I spend sometimes 10 hours a day with, I like CASH. I would love to give and get CASH. A sincere note would be awesome, but I would settle for a “nice job” occasionally in he hallway outside the ladies room. The secret to happiness is lowered expectations…

    Why are your teeth freakishly white?

    1. Baddest Mother Ever Post author

      I got my teeth polished to use up the money in my spending account that expires on Dec 31st! That’s some nice swag on the party gifts…I wonder how many of them get sold and converted to cash!

  6. Jen

    As a teacher, I would be thrilled to get cash and a a heart-felt letter. I’d keep the letter longer than any generic coffee mug or whatnot. And I hate it that people feel the need to get teachers a gift certificate to a supply store … To get supplies for the classroom.

  7. Lunch In the Park

    People give teacher’s gifts as if the teachers were their friends. But they’re usually not. It’s a professional relationship, not a personal one. The best gift a teacher can get is a letter to his or her principal praising the teacher. If the parent has enough spare cash to give to the teacher it’s a bonus.

  8. Kristi Wimmer

    You make me laugh!! I think cash is a smart, thoughtful gift. Love reading your life! Merry Christmas friend!!!

    1. Baddest Mother Ever Post author

      Hey, Kristi! You just wait until I find those pictures of us when we were wearing old ballet costumes and dancing around in the front yard!

  9. Kris Pereira

    I understand your thought behind it, and i know hard it is to juggle everything this time of year, but I would feel funny giving cash. I just don’t want anyone second guessing the meaning behind it. As a nurse I couldn’t accept money or gifts for that matter (beyond the fruit and candy type) so just ignore me. lol

    1. Baddest Mother Ever Post author

      That’s a great point! I hadn’t thought about the ethical impact of offering cash to some professions.

  10. Chris Antenen

    Sorry. Been one; I know it’s a long time ago, but i’m going to say it anyway. Unless the children in question have jobs, this teacher-gift stuff has gotten out of hand Go back and look at the things I kept. One was a black bear statue that Tommy gave me in 1958.

    I know you Ashley. You wouldn’t do their homework, so why do this? Write the note from you and skip the cash. Let the kids decide on an appropriate gift and pay for it. I think a can of Pledge and a jar of Vaseline would be ‘appropriate’ from Carlos. Don’t you?

    Instead of now when gifts are rolling in — meaning thankyou notes from any teacher worthy of the name ‘teacher’ — once in a while when there’s no holiday, drop off a box of kleenex or a case!. Trust me, the teacher is buying it. I taught in a wealthy neighborhood in Decatur, Illinois, but I bought shoes for a little boy and had to sneak around so no one would know. He leaned over, kissed me on the cheek, and ran away in his new sneakers. That was the gift, not the shoes.

    My niece teaches first grade in Denver. She took me through the neighborhood — tiny house after house, and she said “You wouldn’t believe how many people live in each one of them.” Probably illegal immigrants. Never had the same class at the end of the year as the class she began with in the fall. Teacher evaluations based on student progress? Yeah, that should work.

    She told me her best gift ever was a scrunched up half bag of M&Ms.

    I know we think Athens is different, but is it?

    Love to you and Merry Christmas. I’m a sucker for ‘The Little Drummer Boy,’ too.

  11. DeeAnn Cox

    The sincere note from you along with a $20 is perfect! And this from a lady who made Cox Christmas Jam, iced cookies, knitted scarves, etc, etc, etc …

  12. Anne

    We don’t give teacher gifts here, it’s not really done. Some parents are starting to, but the majority don’t.

    I won’t be doing it when my daughter goes to school, instead I will get her to decide what she would like to make for her teacher for Christmas. Gifts from parents just don’t mean as much as gifts from children. I will help her to think about everything her teachers do for her and why it’s important she show them how much she appreciates them, and not just at Christmas.

  13. Heather Slutzky

    The whole thing leaves me confused because teaching isn’t a tipping profession and I don’t even consider giving tips / gifts to other non-tipping professions. Even when the short-stack was in daycare the gift I was willing to give feels trivial in terms of the work they do, and what I think they deserve is more than I can do. So, I hover in the land of awkward because I just … most often … don’t. :/


Want to Leave a Comment? Please Do!