Thank your child’s teacher! On Dec. 7, the State of Alabama Ethics Commission issued a 26-page opinion on how the new Ethics law affects Alabama’s teachers. The area of the law that is receiving the most attention concerns appreciation gifts given to our children’s teachers.It is incredibly restrictive – and has simply gone too far! 

To be fair, I must share with you my biases. I come from a family of educators. Grandpa was a teacher, Papa was superintendent. From their days until now, we have 225 years of experience in education within our family! I am currently married to a school administrator, and my mom taught second grade for decades. When Mother retired, she was the most requested teacher among the second grade faculty! I believe in education, and in my work at Childhaven we place a great emphasis on its importance. I have parented three children, and been the surrogate parent to over 600 students, during my tenure at Childhaven. Teachers shape our future, and in some cases spend more waking hours with children than their parents. 

Teachers are special people, and deserve our thanks. It saddens me to know that when a child wants to give their teacher a gift at Christmas, that we now must review a 26-page opinion to determine if the gift is “legal.” In an age when we need to be fostering a giving spirit and appreciative attitudes, this law seems to be counterproductive. Our legislatures used too broad of a brush. I know that the intent was to curb the power of lobbyists, but to place all public employees and elected officials under a complex and confusing law was a mistake. I hope that it will soon be corrected! 

Certainly we run the risk of some trying to influence a teacher with extravagant gifts. Such action would certainly be wrong, but research seems to clearly indicate that morals cannot be legislated. A simpler approach would be to enact a law that limits a gift to a value of $75 or less for teachers. An unscrupulous parent or teacher may still “secretly” peddle their influence.   

So, what can we do? I suggest that you find a way to legally express your appreciation for your child’s teacher by making a contribution in their honor. You could support the city or county school foundations, or you could make a donation to a charity (Childhaven is a wonderful one). Or, you could take part in Christmas Love, teaching your children to give while donating toys for needy children in honor of your teacher. Any of these, and many others not mentioned, would be happy to notify the teacher that a gift has been made in their honor. 

Years ago, my wife received a Christmas gift form a student. It has perhaps been her favorite and most meaningful teacher gift. It was a used swan candle holder, with the remnants of a burned our candle wick. It was placed in an empty cake icing can, no wrapping paper or bow. It was all this student could have done – poverty racked their home. She said, “Thank you, Mrs. Wright for being my teacher.”   

Join me in thanking our teachers! I plan to make a gift to Childhaven in honor of all the teachers who touch the lives of our Childhaven children. We appreciate them. Can you do the same? 

Dr. Jim Wright

Executive Director, Childhaven, Inc. 

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