What is the gift/token of appreciation etiquette for teacher recommendations?
October 1, 2009 3:15 PM   Subscribe

My oldest, a HS senior, is applying to college and we are asking teachers to complete recommendations. Would it be permissible to include a note and small token of appreciation for each teacher in advance of the recommendation?

We were thinking of including for each teacher a note of thanks in advance for their time, and an area business discount card that is being sold by one of the school district's sports teams as their fundraiser. The cards cost us $10 each, which we are happy to donate to the sports league. There is no cash value to the user of the card unless or until it's used.

We would obviously follow up with another token of appreciation at a more appropriate point later in the year, but we wondered about the ethics of this. Personally I feel they have enough demands on their time, and a token like this would be appropriate. But, the thought "in advance" of the recommendation brings pause. The "B" word, to wit.

Of course, we never do see the recommendations. What does everyone else think?
posted by KWittman to Education (22 answers total)
I would hesitate to provide any sort of gift upon asking for the recommendations. It's more appropriate only to give something like after, and even then it's not expected.
posted by ishotjr at 3:16 PM on October 1, 2009

In advance? Definitely not.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 3:18 PM on October 1, 2009 [8 favorites]

The thanks-in-advance note is fine, but the giftcard, no matter how small, is a no. It doesn't say "token of appreciation," it says "there's more where this came from (if you give our kid a good and timely reference)." You don't mean it that way, of course, but anything that even gives the impression of being a bribe is to be avoided. My high school teachers would have recoiled in horror.
posted by rtha at 3:18 PM on October 1, 2009

Hell no, it'd be courting a favor and would likely make the teacher feel very weird.
posted by tristeza at 3:18 PM on October 1, 2009 [3 favorites]


But be sure to provide addressed/stamped envelopes when you give them the recommendation forms. Being considerate will go a long way.
posted by moonshine at 3:25 PM on October 1, 2009 [2 favorites]

No. A friend of mine is a teacher and was put in this situation. She ended up declining to write the recommendation. In your situation you are obviously coming from a good place, but it may come across as "the b word" at worst, and overzealous parenting at best.
posted by pintapicasso at 3:26 PM on October 1, 2009

I come from a family of teachers and I wholly agree with the comments thus far. Do not include any tokens of appreciation in any form. The thank you in advance is even on the fence. I wouldn't do it. The politeness of the in-person first request from the child is all you need in advance. A formal, appreciative letter of thanks afterward is all you need and probably better suited.
posted by Lacking Subtlety at 3:27 PM on October 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

In advance, it seems like a bribe that is contingent upon a positive recommendation.

Once your child is accepted to college, though, going back and thanking the teachers personally? Nice gesture.
posted by misha at 3:28 PM on October 1, 2009

I agree with others, don't do it in advance. Also, make sure your kid is able to do this on their own with minimal involvement on your part. I think it's a really important thing for these requests to come from the student (speaking as a student from not too long ago, not as a teacher).
posted by Think_Long at 3:33 PM on October 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

I agree with the above - reserve physical expressions of gratitude for after the letter has been sent. Also keep in mind that recommendation letter writers are also often used as references, so they may theoretically be contacted by college admissions boards. It's probably best to wait until after decision letters are received.

Also, regardless of how overworked HS teachers are, writing letters of recommendation is an important part of their jobs - it's nice to express thanks, but it's not required.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 3:37 PM on October 1, 2009

Absolutely not. A gift at the time of request smacks of sleaze and bribery. In fact, you should have absolutely nothing to do with the recommendation process at all. Your child should be handling all of this on his or her own. All they need to do is to ask politely, as early as is possible, and provide the teacher with the form and a corresponding addressed, stamped envelope. Your child should give the teacher at least a few months notice, as teachers are going to be swamped with recommendation requests. Your child should also politely remind the teacher of deadlines as they begin to loom.

However, when the acceptances come rolling in? A thoughtful note, again, from your child, not from you is an appropriately gracious and appreciative gesture.

Again, though, because I can't stress this enough: this is your kid's thing to take care of. Any direct involvement from you will only lessen the teacher's esteem for your child and his or her maturity.
posted by amelioration at 3:39 PM on October 1, 2009 [8 favorites]

As a teacher, just want to add that we LOVE parents that ever think of thanking us, period. So thank you! But no, if you're asking for a recommendation, don't give any present.

If you want to thank teachers, later on in the year bring a lovely, healthy breakfast for the staff. Go beyond Costco muffins: fresh fruit, yogurts, granola, cheese cubes and veggies (remember, most of us are up at 5), Hershey's Kisses, and good coffee!

Other than a note from you or your child, that's our favorite thank you. Most of us never have time to eat something yummy.
posted by dzaz at 3:43 PM on October 1, 2009 [2 favorites]

Whew.. I guess the hive has spoken regarding the 'token of appreciation'.

Regarding the note, I think it is a good idea to "remind" the teacher about various accomplishments your student has had in their class or in the school - this can be done without sounding trite.

I know from experience (I had 160+ algebra students at one point) it is difficult for me to remember what extracurriculars they were involved in (I constantly got cheer confused with dance confused with drill). I might have been able to speak broadly about a student's behavior in class, but unless the student hung out with me before/after or during lunch, I really didn't know too much about them besides what was in my grade book.
posted by yoyoceramic at 3:52 PM on October 1, 2009

The way to show appreciation in advance is to make the teacher's job easy. That means providing them with everything they need to write the rec (brief resume, report card, copy of the best paper the student wrote for their class, envelopes or forms when needed with extras just in case) and plenty of time. Don't make the teacher look up their grades, addresses of college admissions offices, or anything else you can provide.
posted by slow graffiti at 4:27 PM on October 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

That means providing them with everything they need to write the rec (brief resume, report card, copy of the best paper the student wrote for their class, envelopes or forms when needed with extras just in case) and plenty of time.

But have the kid do this, not the parent.

As a teacher who's written lots of these, this is ONLY acceptable if the student asks to meet with me briefly to chat, and they give me this information as they tell me their hopes for the future, why they're applying to specific schools, etc. And I have written in many recommendations about how responsible the student was to come and talk to me (admissions officers know that parents often take on more admission work for their kids than they should).

If a parent hands me a packet referring to the wonders of their genius child, I will still write a better recommendation for the C student who personally comes to see me and tells me why she wants to go to college.

Teachers like responsible kids; we aren't fans of parents who should know when to back off.
posted by dzaz at 4:45 PM on October 1, 2009

Agreed with above: please do not give the teacher a gift beforehand. Even if you decide to give one afterward, perhaps do it at the end of a year as more of a 'thanks for being such a great teacher!' gift rather than for the recommendation itself.

Here's what would make me happiest if I had to write one:

- clear instructions about what the college wants from the letter of recommendation as well as what to do once it is written.

- a stamped envelope with the address already written on the front.

- at least a few weeks notice, especially if I were teaching several classes of juniors.

- a student who could put all of this together rather than depend on his parents.
posted by amicamentis at 4:52 PM on October 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

I did this about two years ago. I made up folders for each of the teachers I was asking for recommendations, with a list of what exactly I needed from them and when, copies of the rec letters forms for each college, stamped and addressed envelopes, and a resume. I would certainly not give them a gift beforehand, or even after. Your kid could maybe send them a thank you note once acceptance letters come in, letting the teacher know where they're going to school and thanking them for their letter. I didn't do this, mostly because I asked teachers I saw every day who certainly knew where I was going, but I sort of wish I had.

I'd also like to second the people above who are telling you to let your kid handle this. This isn't middle or elementary school, where it's expected for you to take the lead when your child deals with adults. You really can't start learning the kind of social graces necessary for things like this early enough. It will come up again, probably in college and definitely when applying for jobs.
posted by MadamM at 6:04 PM on October 1, 2009 [2 favorites]

I'm a high school teacher who writes recommendation letters, and I would not accept such a gift until after the student is safely finished with the entire process, knows where she's going to college, and isn't in any class I teach.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 8:14 PM on October 1, 2009

NO! this looks no different than a bribe in events transpired. Thank you cards after letter received are very appreciated. It's part of their job to write such letters. If you want a small gift once they leave, that's cool (but a bit weird for high school- usually more common when one finishes a thesis or something)
posted by mezamashii at 9:11 PM on October 1, 2009

Nthing not in advance. At the end of my senior year my favorite teachers received gifts; one who had written a laudable recommendation and was also a family acquaintance was taken out to dinner.
posted by brujita at 12:20 AM on October 2, 2009

It's the teacher's job to provide recommendations, and they do it all the time. It's not something that they need to be sweetened for them.

I wouldn't thank them ahead of time, it smells too much like bribery. I wouldn't be surprised if the gesture backfired and the teacher not only said "No thanks" but also declined the request for recommendation. A "thank you" gift *after* the kid gets into college seems way more appropriate.

And yeah, you should be prodding the kid, not hir teacher. Even if *you* provide the gift, make sure it comes from the kid and not directly from you. After all, it's your kid's education we're talking about, not yours!
posted by grapefruitmoon at 5:04 AM on October 2, 2009

Not only is this situation inappropriate, I think the gift is a little hokey and perhaps you should rethink the idea at the time when gifts actually are appropriate (at my high school, winter holiday and end-of-year/graduation). Do not give anything with a direct and redeemable cash value or anything that brings to mind the word "money" at all. Your gift should not require the recipient to spend any of their own money. Do not give 3-D objects made out of glass or ceramic or painted wood, particularly those in a shape of an apple or with motivational quotes about teaching. I write this as a new teacher who has recently received a shocking number of badly-timed gifts in bad taste.

Really the ONLY appropriate gift, in my opinion, is a book + inscription that your child selects + writes herself based on the countless things she must know about the teacher's interests after spending an hour with them in class every day for a year. This can be as simple as scanning the NYT bestsellers list and choosing one hardcover related to the teacher's subject. Why? Books are less associated with cash value than any other gift. The teacher won't wonder/worry about the price, and unless you're buying rare books (NO) the price is reasonable, even if you give two books. They demonstrate to the teacher that the student was paying attention, cares about learning, etc. It's always a good thing to support the teacher's "continuing education". And in the best case scenario, the teacher will actually read the book over winter break or summer and be able to have a discussion with the student, who has also read the book.

Running a distant second is homemade baked goods or a nice bag of coffee if your teacher likes coffee. But definitely not memorable, and if your child can't muster the enthusiasm to think of a thoughtful, scholarly gift, then maybe that teacher shouldn't be the one writing recommendations...

I will admit to one exception, when I graduated from high school. Most life-changing teacher ever, who taught me for two years, wrote my math textbooks for three, and taught me real analysis in independent study. We had become friends, and when we found out that he was retiring/moving the year I was graduating, we gave a $100 gift certificate for a meal at a local restaurant. Major exception, he reported enjoying it, and I *still* felt dirty. Not as dirty as the time two years later when an instructor (a grad student) mentioned that his bike had been stolen. The next day he had to awkwardly decline an envelope of cash collected by some of my more idiotic classmates... before handing out our final exam.
posted by acidic at 1:12 PM on October 2, 2009

« Older How do I know which DVD special features are worth...   |   Hit the 401k to start a business? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.