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What's in a gift? Local teachers refelct on gift-giving trends

Sunday, December 18, 2005

SIKESTON -- From the elaborate such as a cut glass bowl to the simple like a homemade ornament, third grade teacher Marlys Smith said she cherishes every gift she receives from her students each Christmas.

"The first gift (from a student) I remember was from a little boy with a pretty bad speech impediment," Smith said. "When I got my gift, it said 'To Mrs. Mint.' I guess that's all his mother ever heard, and she thought my last name was Mint."

One of the best gifts Smith received was a book of prayers for teachers, she said.

"I've used it during years with stressful classes and in times that were good," said Smith, who teaches at Matthews Elementary in Sikeston.

The most heart-wrenching gifts are the ones brought from home, Smith said. "Those really tug at your heart," she said.

Smith recalled a satin ornament she received one year, only the satin had been removed from the ornament. The only thing left was the Styrofoam.

"The student drew a smiley face in crayon on it," Smith said, adding she still has the ornament today.

Janet Moll has also accumulated quite a collection of gifts from her students over the past 25 years.

"There is one gift that really sticks out in my mind. It's an ornament a student made with Popsicle sticks, and it's red," said Moll, a second grade teacher at Morehouse Elementary.

Moll's school picture was even pasted on the front of the ornament.

"I thought it was comical because school pictures are not always the best pictures," Moll said. "And it was sweet."

Among typical -- but very appreciated -- gifts from students include ornaments, candies and cookies and school-themed items, Moll said.

And there's other gifts like clothing that's a few sizes too small, jewelry that turns some body part green and the occasional bottle of perfume, Smith noted.

Over the years, the gift trends have pretty much remained the same, Moll said.

"If they know I like candles, they'll give me candles," Moll said.

Smith said has endured every trend over the years. Ceramics were really big in the 1970s and the little gifts that could be colored or melted. At one time plate metal ornaments engraved were popular during the 1980s, she said. Moll said she keeps all of her gifts. She'll display them for awhile and then store them in boxes, she said.

Smith admitted she can't keep everything she's received over the years although she has tried.

The teachers said they put all of the ornaments they receive on Christmas trees in their homes.

But it's the students who are sometimes more eager for their teachers to open the gifts, Moll said.

"They're so excited when they bring them in," Moll said. "They want me to open them right then. And then they look at it, or if it's something they can smell or touch, we all have to do it."

But not every student can give something for Christmas, Moll pointed out. Some students will wrap up items from home and others will say they're going to get them something, she said.

"I try to let them know my gift is having them in my classroom," Smith said. The key is to not differentiate between the gifts, Smith said.

"When we do our gifts at our Christmas party and I open them. I let them know everyone's gift is gorgeous and a wonderful gift from the heart," Smith said.

Each gift is special in its own way, the Sikeston R-6 teachers assured. "There were six of us kids growing up in my family, and every year before Christmas, my mother would tell us that the gift is not what counted -- it's the fact it comes from your heart and is something that you want to present to someone to show you love them. The gift is not what you unwrapped," Smith said.

As happy as Christmas time can be, it's also an emotional time, Moll pointed out.

"I know they're not all not going to have a happy Christmas morning like mine will be," Moll said about her students.

And the gift-giving by students does tap into the teacher's holiday spirit, assured Smith, who is in her 31st year of teaching and is set to retire at the end of the school year.

"It really validates to me that I am a teacher reaching these kids," Smith said.

"I'm not just a presenter of lessons but someone who really genuinely loves and cares for them and wants the best for them."