COMMENTARY| According to an article by the Associated Press, Alabama’s new ethics law, which took effect earlier in the year, prohibits students from giving gifts to their teachers that are not considered of a “de minimus value,” a value which is yet to be defined. Under the law, students cannot give teachers gift cards (ones bought without the pooling of money from all students), hams, turkeys, or any other gift that exceeds the “de minimus value” stipulation. Supposedly this law, which was implemented to prevent lobbying for officials but is extended to school teachers, prevents favoritism among students but I fear since there are no clear-cut boundaries, teachers will have yet another issue to tiptoe in fear around.
The problem inherent with this law, which will no doubt spread to many other states, is the lack of boundaries and definitions. It would suffice for both sides of the argument if the law would specify a cap on the amount of money parents can spend. If it were established that students and parents cannot spend more than $10-$15 on holiday gifts, this wouldn’t be an issue but as it stands, the teacher is the one carrying all of the accountability because they are the one who has to ascertain whether a student’s gift is of “de minimus value” or one that could land them in jail for a year if they accept it.
I’m not saying that I don’t agree with the law because as a pre-service teacher, I see how potentially awkward it could be for a teacher when she sits down to give little Johnny a well-deserved “C” but because mommy and daddy sprang for a $50 Christmas gift, she feels pressure. Also, it isn’t fair for the low SES (Socio-Economic Status) students to feel sad because their peers’ parents have more money to throw around.
Fortunately, in my school district and state in general, we teachers do not have such a law (or if one exists, it’s not enforced) so we are free to accept student gifts. I have neither seen a student give, nor have I received, an extravagant gift from a student so the issues of favoritism and fairness are not any more troublesome than they’ve been since the beginning of public education.
I student-taught with a wonderful high school English teacher earlier this year and all of the students in her classes pooled money together and bought her a Kindle, a gift she was just as happy receiving as they were giving.
Gifting teachers is an age-old practice, one that maybe could stand for some boundaries but shouldn’t be another cause of tension and uncertainty with educators. For a true teacher, the gift doesn’t come in wrapping paper or from an upper-middle-class mother- it’s the student who learns and this gift is free.
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