TORONTO — In the fleeting days of the school year, some students will head to class with more than books, lunch and excitement for their impending summer off.
They'll also be toting tokens of appreciation for the teachers they spent the year learning from, a gesture that raises questions about if end of school year gifts are necessary, and what the best approach is, especially as many parents struggle with the rising costs of living.
Teachers and parents say whether to give anything can be a tricky decision influenced by your student's connection to their instructors, school and board guidelines, cultural and neighbourhood norms and even income.
"From my experience, it depends on the community, it depends on the context, it depends on the family, the individual student and also the relationship with this teacher," said Rabia Khokhar, an elementary school teacher in Toronto.
She's received thoughtful thank you cards or crafts, gift cards, books and catered lunch from students or parents and parent councils.
While grateful, she stressed gifts are not required or even expected.
But if you're keen to give something, she advised parents to start by involving their child.
Ask them about their teacher's interests, habits and hobbies, Khokhar said, which can generate potential gift ideas and shows you "listened and built that relationship."
Paolo De Buono, a seventh grade teacher in Toronto, agreed that if you plan to give something, making it personalized to the teacher's interests or lessons is key.
He's given his child's teachers Starbucks gift cards after spotting them placing an order at the chain.
One year, when he taught first grade online, he even had a student and their family arrange to meet him and present him with an LGBTQ Lego set.
"It was touching because I made a point to teach inclusively that year and it was the first year that my school board was celebrating Pride month," De Buono recalled.
"And then...I thought 'wow, that's a bigger than usual gift.'"
It prompted De Buono to check his board's policy around gifting. He found his board allows teachers to accept gifts so long as their value does not exceed $100.
It's also worth checking in with teachers. Some have personal policies against accepting gifts, which they typically announce at the start of the year, said Khokhar.
Others have preferences or cultural sensitives that it is important to be mindful of.
"If the teacher is vegan maybe you're not going to get them a meat card or something like that," she said.
Calgary mom April Hicke and her son send his teachers a gift every Christmas and at the end of the school year.
"I think it's important for my child to see that we treat people that we value really well," she said.
Hicke always spends the same amount — $20 — and involves her son in the gift-giving process, often relying on tidbits they learn about his teacher throughout the year.
One year, he had a teacher who often talked about football and was a fan of the Seattle Seahawks. They gifted the teacher a mug emblazoned with the team's logo.
She has given other teachers who are always spotted with a coffee cup gift cards to coffee chains.
Each gift comes with a card signed by her son.
If you're unsure of what to do, Khokhar suggests having your child make a card or a craft.
"All the things teachers get from children are treasured because it's a way that teachers feel seen for the journey that they've been on with the child."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 18, 2023.
Tara Deschamps, The Canadian Press