What Can You Do When a Student Gives You a Gift that you Can’t Accept?

Teachers are often given gifts by their students, and it can be difficult to know what to do when you receive one. Do you accept it? Do you thank the student for the gift? What if you don’t want or can’t accept it?

There are many risks associated with students giving their teachers gifts. As much as you might find it nice and heartwarming, accepting a student’s gift usually isn’t the best course of action. There are a couple of things that you can do if you are faced with this situation:

1. Thank the student for their thoughtfulness

2. Explain why you can’t keep the gift

3. Offer an alternative, such as a donation to charity

4. Consult with your school’s administration if needed

Thank the student for their thoughtfulness

Teachers should always thank their students for any gifts they may give. Even if the teacher can’t or doesn’t want to keep the gift, a simple thank you shows the student that you appreciate their thoughtfulness.

Thanking the student also helps to reinforce the positive relationship between teacher and student.1 The student has put a lot of thought into the gift, and you don’t want to hurt their feelings. A simple “thank you” is usually sufficient.

Explain why you can’t keep the gift

It’s not enough to simply thank your student for their gift, though. Why parents may be able to understand and accept why you as a teacher cannot accept gifts from your students, the students themselves may not.

Make sure to explain it in terms that are easy to understand. You want to say that you are very grateful for the gift and that it really shows how much you mean to them, but not every student is able to give their teachers gifts and it can feel really unfair.

Imagine if you were going to your best friend’s birthday party and you only realised once you got there that you were the only one who completely forgot to get them a gift! You know that your friend cares about you and they won’t be angry or upset, they will just be glad that you could make it. You would still feel pretty awful though, and you may feel like all the other people at the party think that you aren’t really a good friend.

Offer an alternative

If you can’t keep the gift, offer an alternative such as a donation to charity. This way, the student’s thoughtfulness can still be recognized, and the gift can go to a good cause.

If this isn’t appropriate in the situation, you may ask the student if the gift could be shared with everyone in the class. If it is chocolates, a nice scented candle, or something decorative, you might be able to put it in your classroom and share it with the entire class.

Make sure that it’s very clear that you appreciate this gift, and ask the student if this is what they would like to do. They might rather keep the gift themselves or take it back home if you are not going to accept it yourself.

Consult with your school’s administration

If you’re not sure what to do, or if you’re worried about violating your school’s policy, consult with your school’s administration for guidance. This is particularly important if it is the same student or family who keeps trying to give you gifts.

While giving gifts to teachers is a part of many cultures around the world, if it is not a part of your culture, this may need to be made clear. This means that it might be best coming from the school administration rather than just from you as the teacher.

So what can you do?

Thanking the student for their thoughtfulness is always a good idea, even if you can’t keep the gift. You can also gently explain why you can’t keep the gift and offer an alternative, such as a donation to charity. If the student persists in trying to give you the gift, you can always consult with your school’s administration for guidance. Thanking the student and being honest about your reasons for not keeping the gift is usually the best course of action.Do you have any stories about receiving a gift from a student? Share them in the comments below!


1Cabello, B., & Terrell, R. (1994). Making students feel like family: How teachers create warm and caring classroom climatesThe Journal of Classroom Interaction, 17-23.

Elise is an enthusiastic and passionate Australian teacher who is on a mission to inspire and support fellow educators. With over a decade of experience in the classroom, Elise leverages her expertise and creativity to provide valuable insights and resources through her blog. Whether you're looking for innovative lesson ideas, effective teaching strategies, or just a dose of inspiration, Elise has got you covered.

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