There is a local radio station where I live that made a stand this year against the premature playing of Christmas music.
For the past few years, stations up here, and I assume elsewhere, have been starting their holiday playlists earlier and earlier. No kidding, we were hearing Jingle Bells before the Monster Mash.
Finally, one station had had enough. They claimed that most people wanted to celebrate “one holiday at a time”. And I heartily agree with them.
So, now that Thanksgiving is behind us, I can happily focus my attention on Christmas.
It was right around this time each year when I was working at the private elementary school that I would write the annual letter to parents asking them to contribute to the teacher Christmas bonus fund.
I always looked forward to crafting this particular letter, because it was for a very personal cause. Everyone at the school knew that we couldn’t afford to pay the teachers what they were actually worth. (I’m sure many readers will commiserate.) And, our budget for payroll was already maxed out, so the only way we could give our staff a little extra in their December paycheck was to ask for help from the parents.
When thinking about writing this letter, there were a number of specific items that I made sure I worked into the letter. Here are ten of them:
1. Make sure to tell parents how much these Christmas gifts mean to the teachers.
I was always amazed at how surprised and happy the teachers were when they received their Christmas bonuses. Even though they got one every year, they were always blown away by each new demonstration of generosity. While the actual cash was definitely important and appreciated, it was the act of giving which humbled the teachers most.
2. Make sure to point out how many hours the teachers spend with their children.
It’s easy for parents to get caught up in a daily schedule and not really think about how much of an influence the teachers have on the students. Roughly seven hours a day, five days per week, 180 school days per year. The teachers often spend more quality time with the kids than their parents do. Parents need to be reminded that they should want to take care of these people who have such a great impact on their precious children’s lives.
3. Make sure to mention how the teachers are on the front line of your school’s mission.
Many times, the school administrator worries about the “big” themes of the school. He or she writes the grant proposal letters, the direct mail solicitations, the introductions in the auction guides, etc. However, it is the teachers who actually put a human face on the values the administrator writes and talks about so eloquently. I always wanted to remind the parents that if they value the character of the school, they first have to thank the teachers for living it on a daily basis.
4. Make sure to you illustrate how the teachers sacrifice for their families so your family can have the benefit of a private education.
It’s no secret that private schools, for the most part, don’t pay their teachers an equal wage to the public schools. Many times, the best private school teachers are there because they are passionate about and totally believe in the school’s mission. They are willing to sacrifice that higher wage for the chance to teach in a parochial or charter school. I always asked parents to reward the teachers’ sacrifice at Christmas time. It was usually a pretty easy sell.
5. Make sure to underscore how you, as the principal or administrator of the school, feel personally committed to the teachers.
If you are the principal or director of the school, you need to share with parents how personally connected you are with the staff. You work with them on a daily basis and you support them in everything that happens during the course of the school year. I would always write that the teachers are like family to me. This sense of personal commitment on your part should serve as a testimonial and resonate with parents. Ultimately, your words should encourage the parents to give.
6. Make sure to instruct parents that all gifts should be sent to the office so they can be distributed fairly and evenly among the entire staff.
I’m not a big fan of each teacher getting whatever the parents of their particular students are able to give. That could be a real crap shoot from year to year. I believe that we were all one team, so I requested all donations come to the office so I could collect and evenly distribute the results. I never commented to anyone how much came in from any one class. The teachers should all get the same amount. (Note: the board at my particular school did have a set structure that varied from position to position. For example, the teachers all got one amount, the support staff got another figure, and the administration also got a portion.)
7. Make sure to remind parents to make their checks out to the school, so that it is tax deductible.
The end of the calendar year is always a good time to remind parents that any gift to your school is tax deductible. By now, many parents already know this, but it doesn’t hurt to mention it.
8. Make sure you encourage them that even small gifts when combined with others add up to make the teachers very happy.
Some parents I knew were embarrassed that they could only give a small amount to the teachers. They would hand me a check or some bills and apologize when they handed it to me. I would always thank them profusely and tell them that all gifts are helpful and greatly appreciated. It all adds up and miracles do happen. Since I was at a Christian school, I often mentioned the fishes and loaves parable.
9. Make sure parents know that your school has a tradition of taking care of its teachers every year (if that is, indeed, true), but it is up to the parents each year to make sure the school lives up to this ongoing promise.
There is a certain level of responsibility that parent have in taking care of their children’s teachers. Even though there is no formal obligation to give, I don’t think you, as the person writing this letter, should shy away from putting this politely on the parents’ shoulders. Of course, we are always respectful, but don’t apologize for asking.
10. Make sure to be incredibly polite in your request as parents are faced with many obligations during the month of December.
As I just mentioned, make sure you are almost falling all over yourself with thankfulness in your letter. December can be a tough month for many families, and you are asking them to take on an extra financial commitment. Don’t have any hint of taking their gift for granted in your letter or it will likely offend or alienate someone.
During the course of my time at the school and in other non-profit ventures, I wrote many letters requesting donations. However, the letters I always felt most passionate about were the one where I asked for the teachers. I really do believe these dedicated servants make tremendous sacrifices, and they live out the school’s mission in a very public fashion. I felt personally responsible for their happiness and wanted them to know everyday how special and appreciated they were. This letter was a chance for me to put my appreciation into a real act of giving.
I hope you find this same passion for your teachers. I know they deserve it.