Monday, November 23, 2009

Issues with the Giving Tree

At school registration in August, I signed up for the PTA holiday decorating committee, mainly because it was chaired by Pam, my neighbor, who I know is very organized and so I assumed the project would be relatively stress-free.

She called a week or so ago to ask me to set up the "Giving Tree" today in the school lobby. (I have another mom helping, but I haven't met her yet -- she'll be there at 4:00, I hope.) Leslie's school in Jersey had a Giving Tree. There were tags on it with gift requests for needy children. You bought the gift, wrapped it, put the tag on it and returned it to the school to be delivered to the child later. A worthy activity, I thought.

This is different. The tags on this tree have gifts suggestions for the teachers in the school. They were each asked to make a wish list of 12 items, and I listed each item on a gift tag to hang on the tree.

I am so uncomfortable with this project, and I can't quite pinpoint why. From the beginning, when Pam was describing the whole thing on the phone, I felt anxiety creeping up in me. For some reason, I just couldn't quite picture what this was supposed to be and what she was wanting from me. I don't know if I was just suffering some temporary stupidity that day or if she was not explaining clearly. I think I've got the idea now, but I'm still a little nervous that I'm going to miss something important here. Why? I dunno . .

But more than that, I found myself getting annoyed while I was filling out these gift tags with the teachers' requests -- and again, I can't pinpoint why. I have no problem with kids being encouraged to show appreciation to their teachers. All their gift requests seemed to be for things to use in the classroom. And I can certainly see how the teachers would like being able to let people know what they would genuinely like for Christmas gifts -- rather than getting the usual cheesy things teachers seem to get every year.

I don't know what my issue is. Maybe the somewhat extravagant gifts some of the teachers had on their list (a special stapler with colored staples? Really?). Maybe it's that my taxes should already be paying for the teachers' classroom needs. Maybe it's that I did fine teaching my kids at home without such items. Maybe it's that I want kids to think beyond their immediate world to others with genuine needs. (I remember that it wasn't until we started homeschooling that Leslie met a child who didn't get everything they asked for on their Christmas list. ) Maybe it's that feeling of holiday obligation again . . . that my gift to the teacher isn't just a thoughtful gesture of gratitude anymore, but an assumed expectation . . . that the thought isn't what counts now. The girls and I have made it a tradition to give bags of homemade caramel popcorn to their various teachers for Christmas -- but will Mr. Dickman really appreciate that when he's publicly made it known that he wants a "Zenergy Trio Chime" from the teacher store? Will we just look cheap and selfish?

Whatever. These seem to be my issues, so I'll try to let go of it. I'll set up the tree this afternoon. But I do wish I could have more joy in this.


Meredith said...

WOW, I got the same feeling as you, Gwen, when I read about the TEACHERs' giving tree. I'd always heard of the one for NEEDY people, too. It does seem forced and selfish on the one hand. On the other hand, you made a good point that esp in elementary school, teachers DO get cheesy gifts. And teachers have a really tough job that doesn't come with a lot of "thanks" but still... I'm sorry you have to be in charge of MAKING the thing!

Anonymous said...

When my kids were in elementary school they had a giving tree only they would have a designated gift to bring, one year the kids were encouraged to bring mittings to put on the tree as decorations, to be given to a local charity at the end, one year it was jars of peanutbutter for examples. They also had the teachers put wish list on the tree or the wall next to the tree for ideas for not only students but for the pto to get ideas. Our pto always provided gifts to the teachers based on their wish list. Yes, the school does pay for school items, but with the local budget cuts, and they are DEEP here in Kansas, there "budgets" are very small. My sister says she could run out of her alotted money before Christmas if she didn't watch it and still uses some of her own money for certain projects or ask the parents to "donate" or have the child bring the item to complete the project. One year they wanted to make a sock doll for history week, they needed old clean socks and squares of material and stuffing, they asked each child to bring a sock and 2 squares of material and the teacher would provide the stuffing. I had Kyle bring 4 socks, probably 10 squares of material and a bag of stuffing, because I knew there were kids in his class who had parents that either couldn't afford to do it, or didn't pay attention to do it and I knew the teacher would be stuck with getting the stuff herself. They work hard with these kids for the districts and states to cut millions of dollars from the classrooms.....although I must admit a special stapler with colored staples doesn't sound.....important.

Vianelli and Eastin said...

I never thought of it that way. They are selfish! Well, we did collect alot of cans for the Soup Kitchen...