used to be a rebbi. I taught tenth grade in a rather unspectacular career that spanned two years. It wasn’t long enough to give me any real chinuch expertise but it does qualify me to offer a certain insight. Few rebbeim and morahs experienced as they might be would make the following statement — not because they don’t think it true but because it’s awkward for them to say it.
Give your child’s rebbi/morah/teacher a Chaunkah present. It makes a difference.
Our mechanchim and mechanchos aren’t in this for personal gain but for altruistic reasons to change lives and inspire souls. But they’re people too. And when you acknowledge them and show them that you appreciate what they do your child will benefit. It’s not a bribe: When you invest in a relationship when it’s important to you then it becomes important to the other person as well. And a relationship with the rebbi or morah can only help your child.
Some tips from those on the receiving end:
• Just like a good present sends a message a lousy one does too. A gift selected with thought and consideration reflects respect for both the educator and the process; passing off a generic item you received from your last Shabbos guests says the opposite. Every Jewish home has a challah cover and extra candy dishes and no one is lying in bed dreaming If only we had just one more mid-priced glass bowl from the marked-down section near the cash register in Marshall’s…. If you wouldn’t want to get it don’t give it.
• This one is personal and will probably cost me but I’m saying it anyhow. Don’t give books you wrote or albums you released. The teachers know about the box in your basement and how utterly meaningless it is. Yeah I know it’s autographed. No one cares.
• Here’s another one. Write a nice card. The gift is important but the personal words and emotions you add mean so much. (Be honest you have a case of stationery from your chasunah you’re never going to use so it’s a mitzvah.) Also swallow the yetzer hara to write report-card-style to your child’s teacher: Morah Weinstein has been a good teacher this semester and finally shows signs of taking it seriously: She isn’t there yet but with her brains we hope to see great things. She has tremendous potential and it’s just a question of attitude. A freilechen Chanukah.
• Oh and don’t give stuff that reflects your personal hobbies. Like if you’re handy it doesn’t mean the rebbi wants an electric drill and just because you’re a fitness buff the morah doesn’t need a voucher for free spinning classes sitting in her drawer until bedikas chometz.
• One more tip. You don’t have to include your children in the process or solicit their opinions about how much rebbi or morah deserves. The rebbi or morah certainly doesn’t deserve the humiliation of having a petulant child inform them that because there was no extra recess the gift is being downgraded from leather gloves to a pair of mittens.
(One tiny little note to the mechanchim: Remember to say thank you. Parents also work hard for their money and by ignoring their generosity you’re costing next year’s rebbi/morah a chance at a decent gift.)
• Finally it’s not crude to give money. Worry about being classy when you’re visiting your mechutanim. Money is a very good present to get because now the rebbi/morah can actually use it to get the stuff they really want.
Like that beautiful challah cover they’ve been dreaming of.
Yisroel Besser may be contacted directly at email@example.com
(Originally featured in Mishpacha Issue 688)