By Gail O'Connor
August 26, 2014
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You shouldn't have! Really shouldn't.

Here was a post in my news feed that caught my eye: "How many of you do a 'first day of school' gift for the teacher?"

Wait. What?

"That's the dumbest thing I've never heard of," a friend replied, when I asked her if back-to-school teacher gifts were a "thing" I'd somehow missed.

Maybe I'm just a crank, but crafty parents, please hear me out: Teachers don't need first-day-of-school gifts. As much as I love and support teachers (my dad was a teacher), I'll go so far as to say they don't deserve them. (Duck!) Not now anyway: The school year's only just begun. How can you appreciate what a teacher's done for your child when she hasn't even had a chance to show her where the pencil sharpener is?

Yet go to Pinterest, and you'll find dozens of "first day" and "back to school" gifts to create for teachers, like:

- Homemade cookies in a Mason jar with this gift tag: "I'm going to be one smart cookie with you as my teacher!"

- A bottle of root beer: "Pop quiz: Who's the luckiest student around? I'm so lucky to have you as my teacher!"

- Box of mints: "I'm glad you were 'mint' to be my teacher."

It's all very clever and sweet. And the defense for gift-giving like this is it's OK because these particular presents are "small." But who's to say another parent won't raise the bar? Some stores sell "Back to School #1 Teacher" gift cards in up to $100 increments. So much for those measly boxes of tissues you were planning to donate.

It's tough to argue that it's harming anyone if someone wants to bequeath a pack of Extra gum with a tag ("Looking forward to a great year with an EXTRAordinary teacher!"). But we all know if one parent does it, then five parents will do it, and in no time something nobody did five years ago will become expected, the norm. (Look at the Elf!) The moms I know are already busy this time of year. They don't need another thing to do.

What do teachers need? They need the stuff they always need at the beginning of the year, and throughout: wipes, plastic freezer bags, presharpened pencils, and paper towels. They need books for their libraries. They need parent support, for their classroom policies and procedures. You can't pick that up at Starbucks.

Here come the commenters who will say don't I know how hard teachers work? What's wrong with a little appreciation? Nothing, but why not wait just a little while— until you can feel genuine appreciation for that teacher? And the holidays really are only a few months away. Even then, what teachers might like most is a nice letter—especially if they're non-tenured—that's also cc'd to their boss.

Fortunately for cash- or time-strapped parents, there's no price on sincere appreciation.