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The Best Gifts Come in Small Sizes

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It was finally Ana’s turn. As she eagerly handed me her gift bag, Ana said, "Miss Fung, I know you are really going to like this!" I pulled out a lovely, charcoal skirt from Express. "How beautiful, Ana! Thank you so much," I said as I hugged my sweet 1st-grader.

"Put it on!" a voice from the back screamed out.

OK, Jane, how are you going to pull this one off?, I thought to myself. The tag on the skirt read size 6. I have never been and will never be a size 6.

If you are a kindergarten teacher, gifts from your students are part of your daily life. There is no short supply of handmade cards, letters, and pictures. We get shiny buttons, rocks, sticks, leaves, and loose change. We also get "borrowed" gifts—those are the gifts that you are given at the start of the day, only to be asked for them back by mid-afternoon.

In my nearly 22 years as a public school primary teacher, I have had my share of coffee mugs, boxes of chocolates, flowers, and stuffed animals. And no one smells better than me first thing in the morning—my students make sure I have a steady supply of scented lotions, bath gels, and body sprays.

As the holidays come around again, I can’t help but think about all the wonderful and unique gifts I have received from my students over the years. The fake fingernails (just the thing for kindergarten) and bright red lipstick. Once there was a 10-pound pumpkin cheesecake. There are no rules for gift giving when you are five years-old. A friend of mine once got a pair of red-laced underwear from one of her kindergartners.

I remember the surprisingly thoughtful gifts—like the Mike Piazza baseball cards from students who were paying close attention during writing workshop when I wrote about my favorite catcher. I remember my student who was so excited when she managed to convince her mother that a Barbie doll would make the perfect gift because Miss Fung collects dolls. I still have that Barbie.

Then there are the gifts I ask for—donations to our classroom like dry-erase markers we use to practice letter formation, copy paper for homework, or flour to make playdough.

I also think of those very special gifts from the heart, the presents that were not bought new from stores but taken out of special boxes, playrooms, and beds. I think of a much-loved fashion doll, a first teddy bear, and a floppy gray bunny that had once been white, all given to me by their original owners.

While I cherish all these wonderful souvenirs of our time together, my favorite teacher gifts are not the ones that cost anything; they are the moments I get to witness every day in the lives of my current and former students. Moments such as:

• Being there when Owen discovers he really can read a level-two book all by himself;

• Celebrating with Juan the day he successfully names every letter of the alphabet;

• Smiling to myself when Amy finally decides to sit and share in the Author’s Chair;

• Watching Dulce, my student from a dozen years before, graduate from high school;

• Attending a three-hour high school play written and directed by Paola, my former non-English speaking first-grader (who is now a graduating law student);

• Finding out that Leafar, the six-year-old class artist, is now the 22-year-old art major.

• Receiving emails from students past, who are now adults but still remember making fudge and dancing the Jingle Bell Rock at this time of the year;

• Following the career path of Kathleen, who has wanted to be "a teacher like Miss Fung" since she was 4, as she begins college this fall.

Don't get me wrong. I still love those See's Candies certificates, mango-scented lotions, homemade pupusas, and my daily handwritten "I love you Miss Fung" notes. But like teachers everywhere, my favorite gifts are my students themselves. Watching them learn and grow, and learning and growing alongside them, is beyond compare.

I know you are wondering if I ever wore Ana’s skirt to school. I did. Luckily, Express also had one in a size 12.

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