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Phoebe Maltz Bovy is a contributing columnist for The Globe and Mail.

It has recently been brought to my attention that some parents in Toronto are soliciting others for cash gifts for public school teachers. This has not, to my knowledge, caught on at my own child’s school, but gift cards for teachers are an established tradition in Canada, and a Washington Post advice column urges giving schoolteachers cash at the holidays.

And there is a case for giving teachers cash. Many parents want to thank teachers, and this is the traditional teacher-thanking time of year. A monetary gift (or generic gift card) is a way to avoid guessing wrong and inadvertently offending with a gift that references a holiday the teacher doesn’t observe, or home-baking something the teacher’s allergic to, or handing them some knick-knack that isn’t to their taste, and that they will now forever associate with your child.

But if teacher gifts are of the cold-hard-cash variety, they start to seem a bit like holiday tipping. Much like rounding up by 15 to 20 per cent on your latte, the monetary gift-giving becomes all the more important with the cost of living skyrocketing. Yet high grocery bills and housing costs also mean fewer funds available to the would-be tipper.

An Emily Post guide to gratuities suggests taking “regional customs” into account, which implies knowing what those are, and letting “common sense, specific circumstances and holiday spirit … be your guide.” The instructions also advise putting your own budget first, which seems reasonable, but a fear of being thought stingy (or – horrors – poor) might lead some to tip beyond their means.

Teacher gifts differ from gratuities in key ways. Sending your child to public school is not a luxury. It’s not like going to a restaurant. And there’s no straightforward redistribution case for teacher gifts being cash. For daycare, perhaps, but teachers earn less than some public-school parents, more than others, and quite a bit more than baristas. Teachers work hard and deserve the gratitude they get, but there are also non-monetary ways to show appreciation: a handmade card comes to mind.

Then there’s the big one, which is that you don’t want to bribe your kid’s teacher. There’s no equivalent with, say, your hairdresser. (If you overtip, your stylist might make you look really nice, and then who knows the damage that will ensue!)

My own kid’s public school organizes numerous charitable endeavours at this time of year, some in the school and some from the class itself. It’s about helping those who have less – a worthy value, and one it would be weird for a school not to instill. There is nevertheless the question, at what is, after all, a public school, of how much the families themselves have. Some own large detached houses. Others rent – and get renovicted from – modest apartments. Are all the kids being inculcated in noblesse-oblige members of the noblesse to begin with? Is it confusing for the kids who don’t have much, and who might be particularly keyed into that fact at this time of the year, to hear about the importance of giving back?

These charitable efforts are on top of the donations of classroom materials for the school itself, as well as year-round fundraising campaigns – events where you pay a surcharge for pizza or whatever and it helps pay for school programs. All of this is easier for some families than others.

It’s all tough to parse ethically. There’s an equity case for minimizing parental involvement (not all parents, in all catchment areas, can be equally involved), but also a value in harnessing whatever extra funds and energies parents may have lying around.

It’s also not entirely about the money. There’s just a lot to keep track of, holiday-wise, especially for those with multiple kids in different programs. There are teachers in school as well as aftercare. Gratitude itself isn’t limited, and each of these workers does a ton. There are just rather a lot of them. Daycare workers – a high-turnover job, for understandable reasons – definitely must be thanked, which means locating the most up-to-date list of who is a daycare worker in your child’s room, and of trying to figure out which “floating” workers are there the most often. You need to have a spreadsheet, and to write the cards, and to keep track of whichever festivities your own family observes, and also, somewhere in the remaining waking hours, to do whatever the job is that requires you to have someone else looking after your children in the first place, and that makes it possible, or possible-ish, to cough up the suggested amount.

But at least the parents of young children will have a restorative couple of weeks, when schools are closed, and they’re home, in cold weather, with cabin-fever-having kids, in which to catch up on some much-needed rest. Or that’s the dream, anyway.

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