Wednesday, November 27, 2013

What (Not) To Buy Your (Sunday School) Teacher

There are probably a million gift-buying recommendations out there for buying teacher gifts. This is mine.

Despite being only 36, I've been a Sunday School/Bible School teacher in some shape, form or fashion, for more than 19 years. I'm sending many of my former charges off to college and careers at this point. I've seen a lot of Christmas and birthday gifts for teachers in my time and can list a lot of Do and Don't tips.


1) For the love of all that is holy, please do not have your child actually participate in the giving of a gift that is more appropriate for a bachelorette party. Yes, I have had to thank a four-year-old for gifting me sexy underpants. I get that you and I, Parent, know each other as adults, but... no. Just no. You can give me those and say it's a thank you for teaching your child and give me a card from your adorable little cherub at the same time, but maybe don't have your four-year-old watch me open them. That's hella awkward for the decidedly single young Sunday School teacher and frankly makes me kind of wonder about you when you later freak out over a piece of student literature intended for adolescents that mentions the mere existence of breast feeding as though it were describing, in graphic detail, the orgies Sodom and Gomorrah used to put on, with pictures. (True story.)

Like, if you can floss your teeth with any portion of the underpants, this might not be the best option. I'm not a prude by any means, but I'm having a hard time reconciling this gift choice of yours with your insistence that both Harry Potter and tattoos are evil. How do you stand on bikini waxes?

2) No dust-gathering tchotchkes that only perform the function of dust-gathering and being a tchotchke. If they've taught more than a year or already graduated high school, I guarantee you they have plenty of tchotchkes to gather dust. No one actually needs another angel figurine or another vague "this was the year I gave this to you, it had a Christmas in it" Christmas ornament. Exceptions are made for dust-gathering tchotchkes hand-crafted or decorated in some fashion by your adorable cherub with the intention of giving them to me and personalized ornaments that actually took ten seconds of forethought. Know I like to run and buy me a personalized runner ornament? Awesome job, you, this is a DO. Give me a one of a kind lopsided Popsicle stick stable held together with Elmer's Glue? I will cherish it. Seriously. Buy me a shiny ball that has nothing but the year on it for no particular reason? Then I feel like you mechanically ticked a box next to my name on a list of chores somewhere. Then I have to find somewhere to store it. 
Arthur Court swears this bunny snowman is "adorable". I'm leaning more toward "it's staring into my soul in a slightly disturbing way", but at least the engraving ensures I can accurately tell my therapist when the nightmares started.

3) No makeup, perfume, hair care or bath products without doing at least thirty seconds of research, please. At least ask a spouse or relative if there are allergies, strong pro or con feelings for any particular brand, or any preferred/hated scents. Or cunningly bring it up in conversation. "You know, I tried that Dove shampoo/vanilla lotion and I really like it. Ever tried it?" will probably provide enough of a response that you can pick out a shampoo or a scented lotion. I'm stupid enough to assume not everything in the world revolves around me, so I won't even suspect you're digging for information. I'm really not good at picking up subtle hints like that.

I'm pretty allergy-free and like most everything you can slather on, personally, but I did once get a lip liner that, seriously, made my lips swell. And not in a sexy way. More in a "the skin around the perimeter is missing and I'm oozing blood" kind of way.

Also, go light on the makeup if you do buy it. A person can only wear so much. This also applies to nail polish. I think I have a ten-year supply despite not being a huge makeup person, mainly from gift sets. If they don't wear full eye makeup every single day, maybe the eye shadow gift set is not the best choice. Especially if it has 20 colors. I love bath and shampoo stuff, though, and it's rare to find a clunker among those. It's the kind of thing you can easily find out about anyone in short order and can be really cheap.  A full-size bottle of a common shampoo and conditioner can be bought for less than five bucks at your local Mega-mart or grocery store, I'll get months of use out of it, it will be one less thing I need to remember to buy and as a bonus, I do not have to store it in perpetuity. You use it up and move on to the next thing, and maybe I try something I never would have bought for myself. It does not have to be some fancy-riffic gift set from an overly-perfumed shop with one of those oddball scrubby-net things to let me know you were thinking of me.

Razz Gentle Mini Net Sponge

You don't fool me, so-called "bath pouf". You couldn't hack it as a pot scrubber, could you?
4)  Don't feel like you're a bad person if you don't buy me anything. I don't teach your child exclusively for the really super-awesome Christmas gifts, I promise. Honestly, I probably prefer you maybe volunteer to lead a craft one night at Bible School or something equally constructive. You might be surprised how wearying it can be at times to Be Responsible all the time. 
Throw a girl a bone and maybe spend 30 minutes organizing gluing some stuff when I've already had a long day at work?


1) Try to think of something useful. Useful doesn't even have to be all that personal, so don't panic if you don't know the teacher well. Preferably find something that will be used and used up. This is why lotion/shampoo/body wash is a supremely solid choice. Most people practice personal hygiene or can find some kind of use for a product they don't like. Everybody eats, and I'm betting you've seen this person eat something they like at a potluck, unless you have the saddest church family ever. A tiny little snack bag of imperfect brownies or cookies or snack mix your kid helped with, tied with a ribbon is awesome beyond words. I make exceptions for storing snack foods on my hips in perpetuity, because at least that doesn't need dusting and does not need to be protected from squirrels in the attic.

Do they ever eat out at lunch? New restaurant open up in the city where they work? Ask if they've tried it out yet. If the review seems positive, a gift card from there might be welcome. If the answer is no or they don't like it, ask where they recommend eating when you're in town. Sneaky, sneaky.

Do they have a car or ride the train? Everyone commutes. Gas station gift cards or public transit fare cards are practical. Do they have a body? If you want something a little more pampering-but-useful, I've never seen anyone go "Oh, darn, someone got me a gift certificate for a massage, I hate when that happens..." when opening an envelope. Do they have hair? Most everyone gets their hair cut. Say, "Gee, I like your hair, where do you get it cut?". Listen to the answer. Buy a gift certificate from said salon for any service they offer. Get together with the other parents and suggest everyone pitching in a little bit of money for a more impressive amount if you can't stand the idea of a small gift card. The other parents will probably want to hug you for saving them from having to think up something to buy.

Also, you will be allowed to gloat about finishing your Christmas shopping early.

2) Thoughtful is good, too. Thoughtful doesn't have to be expensive, either, it just requires knowing a speck of personal information. Maybe you've heard them natter on about running. A good pair of SmartWool running socks can cost like $12 at your local sports store or online. You don't even have to know squat about running socks. Just go in and say, "What running socks do you recommend?" in a half-decent sporting goods retailer or search "best running socks".
Know they like to cook or that they make a mean casserole/dessert for all the potlucks? You can never have too many cookbooks or too many casserole dishes, Pyrex portables or cake pans. Feel impersonal? They make personalized cake pans that don't cost an arm and a leg! Google it!

Sunday School teachers are people, too. I bet if you ask your kid, they might even know about their hobbies or what they like to do in their spare time. Anyone can buy a Sunday School teacher the Devotional Book Of The Week. Truly amazing parents might actually spend enough time talking to their child or the teacher to find out that, hey, Miss Stacie really likes playing the piano/running/reading/that movie/that television show/that series of books/that color, too!

Discworld Stickers - Clubs and Societies 
Honestly, I'm not that complicated. If it can be described as "geeky", you're probably good. People who think runners are not geeky have never spoken to a run-nerd. Warning: Do not ask me about my geeky interests unless you're prepared for at least five minutes of gushing.

3) Feel free to write something priceless that no money can buy. Take five minutes, a piece of notepaper, and write all of three sentences thanking me for spending a block of minutes a week with your kid that make a difference and you will have hit me square in The Feels. It doesn't even have to be inside a Christmas card. Sunday School teachers worry about having an impact. They worry that maybe 90% of what they're saying doesn't make it beyond the classroom door. They worry that you might not approve of everything they teach or that they might inadvertently offend someone. They have to tiptoe around wide and varying beliefs, some of which they don't necessarily agree with, without belittling any of them. They worry that they're getting taken for granted. They worry that they're not going to be able to come up with a single freaking craft idea for the next Bible School.

Did your kid remember something about a particular lesson that impressed you? Do you think class is making them more mindful of being kind or thoughtful about others? Are you happy that reading Bible verses out loud in class has improved their reading skills and made them more confident when they used to be terrified of reading in front of anyone?  Are you just pleased that someone other than you is even willing to take on the frankly terrifying minefield that is Answering The Big Life Questions For Wee People Aged Roughly Six To Fourteen? Tell me. Bonus points for having your adorable child write a sentence or two. A "thank you for being so nice to me" from a kid can keep me going for months.
Yes, the retirement plan is awesome, but the occasional job review is welcome.


  1. My favorite teacher gift every was a simple jewelry box one of my kids picked out for me because he noticed I always had lots of earrings. Very observant for a 5th grader.

  2. The kids generally know I'm a sucker for chocolate (the goodie bags I bring on holidays give me away, there), fancy notebooks, winter hats, gloves and scarves, certainly.

    My absolute favorite though is still the card where a little girl wrote in big ole scrawly letters, basically, "Thank you for always being so kind and nice to me and smiling so much." It totally broke me, in a good way, because it had been a hard few years for me due to some "teh dramaz" that resulted in me becoming the full time teacher in the first place and some really difficult family losses near Christmas several years in a row.

    I doubt she knew it, but it was what I needed to hear in the worst way right then.