Looking to buy a gift for your child’s teacher? Here’s how to be ethical about it
This year, many of us have come to appreciate, perhaps more than before, the incredible work teachers do. We may wish to show our appreciation with a gift.
But what kind of gift will show our gratitude while ensuring we’re being ethical, too?
What are the rules about gifts?
The key ethical concepts to consider when giving a gift to a teacher is undue influence and a conflict of interest, whether they be perceived, potential or real.
Public perception of the acceptance of a gift is important. In ethics policies and codes of conduct it can be affected by factors such as whether the gift was given in secret, the relationship between the giver and the receiver, and the magnitude and frequency of giving.
Teaching is an exposed profession when it comes to public perception — everyone has gone through the education system and has an opinion. The paradox is that public perception of teaching as a profession can differ from the warm and appreciative perceptions individuals often have of their own child’s teacher.
This means any gift, benefit or hospitality given to a teacher must not be easily considered a kind of bribe for special treatment, such as giving a specific grade to your child.
Each gift comes with some risk to the reputation of a teacher. Cash and items that can be easily exchanged for cash, such as shares, are generally forbidden. Parents should assume it is inappropriate to gift a teacher money for a nice dinner out, or an expensive piece of jewellery.
Each state and territory has its own gifts and benefits policies when it comes to ethical codes of conduct.
In Tasmania a gift must be worth less than A$100 and teachers must report offers of cash to their head of department and Tasmania Police. Whereas in the New South Wales Code of Conduct teachers must politely refuse gifts worth more than $50 (see Section 10.4) but can request approval for them.
In Queensland, teachers need to declare most gifts in a form. The gifts must be approved by the school and recorded on the public gift register. Gifts worth more than $150 will also be evaluated for appropriateness but those over $350 are unlikely to be approved.
In Western Australia a teacher can accept any minor gift valued less than $100 — such as chocolates, flowers, wine or jewellery — without declaring them. Other types of gifts such as consumables (event tickets) or property (mobile phones, computers) must be declared, registered and approved by the principal or director. Any gift over $1,000 cannot be kept for personal use.
In Victoria, a “gift of appreciation” valued at $100 or less from parents or guardians to a teacher can be accepted and does not need to be declared.
So, what can I give?
The questions you need to ask yourself before giving a gift are:
- can I be certain the gift is simply a demonstration of my gratitude for exemplary but complete teaching (such as end of year or semester), and not loaded with further expectations, such as a public acknowledgement or favours?
- is my gift excessive or could it be considered inappropriate?
- can my gift be exchanged for cash?
- am I a serial gift-giver? If so, calculate the total value of the gifts you have given to ensure they can’t be perceived as excessive or pressure for special treatment.
Some ethical gift ideas include:
- your favourite book, or a book voucher that can’t be exchanged for cash.
- a silk tie or colourful scarf, but not more intimate clothing
- scented candles, an engraved pen, a bound notebook or a small item from the antique store, as long as they are reasonably priced
- regifting a quality item, making a thank you card with your child, or planting some succulents in a nice pot
- getting together with other students’ families for a bigger gift. In Victoria a gift valued at over $500 may be approved if offered by multiple students or carers. In Western Australia, a teacher could be given a holiday trip as a farewell gift from a group of graduating students. So long as the teacher completes the required declaration and the gift is internally approved, the teacher can take the opportunity as a personal, private trip without requesting official travel approval
- making donations on your teacher’s behalf. In NSW, it is acceptable to donate a large sum of money, such as $1,000 to the school library for resources, or for playground equipment. But consult with your school about the process of such donations
- if you know your teacher has a special interest in, for instance, environmental protection, equal educational access for girls, or the provision of medical assistance to children in war-torn areas, you could give a tax-deductable donation to a reputable charity, on their behalf.
South Australia’s education department also invites students and parents to say a public thanks to their teacher on an online form.
The last ethical consideration is to ask yourself where the intended gift came from. Was it made ethically, on a living wage? Can it be recycled or made sustainably? Does it support a local industry or artist? Would your teacher like to know you have made a donation to a worthy cause on their behalf?
If you are thinking about showing your appreciation to your teacher, it might be best to ask them what they would like, or what the school might need, to be sure they will be able to enjoy it.
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