I heard this week that an Alabama law designed to fight corruption by limiting all public employees from accepting anything of "significant value" from the public has put the holiday tradition of giving your teacher a present on hold. In fact, teachers could conceivably be arrested for taking gifts from their students' families.
In Alabama, they say that this was an unintended consequence of the law and plans are already underway to change it so that apples and gift cards will once again be on the big desk in every classroom. In Germany, gifts to teacher are strictly verboten-- they are considered bribes and therefore unethical.
Coincidentally, just this week, several friends have consulted me about how much is appropriate to give to teacher at this time of year. A couple of questions were connected to the Alabama situation, but others were not, and everyone wanted to know how to express their sincere gratitude without going overboard. Is a hundred dollars too much? someone actually asked.
It's ironic that they should be asking me. I work in a school where, compared to some of the more affluent schools just a few miles away in the very same district, teachers are somewhat "under gifted." I have friends who do get hundreds of dollars in cash and gift cards, and one who even received Springsteen tickets once. I sometimes get a card and a candy cane, or a mug and some cookies, and although the occasional coffee card finds its way to my desk, most families don't give me anything.
I'm fine with how things are. I know my students and their families appreciate me and I don't feel at all deprived, but I have to be honest and say that such a disparity along clearly socio-economic lines makes me wonder if perhaps the Germans have the right idea.