- Associated Press - Monday, November 14, 2011

Teachers, tutors, coaches and baby sitters are among life’s golden helpers, and at holiday time, many of them get thank-you gifts from the children and families they serve.

A few may be lucky enough to get cash tips or pricey group presents organized by the team or class mom. In some affluent communities, in fact, cash or expensive gift cards for teachers have become a bit of an ethical issue.

But many teachers and caregivers end up with a load of small gifts bought on the fly - things like scented candles and cutesy coffee mugs.

Selena Yang, 22, in East Brunswick, N.J., is a former baby sitter and teacher’s assistant at a preschool. Edible arrangements were fun, she said, but her best gift was a personalized cover for her Kindle in a white fleur-de-lis pattern against a background of baby blue, her favorite color.

“It had my initials on it,” she said. “Not only was it thoughtful, but it was unique.”

The gift also required the givers, the family of one of her charges, to know a little something about her life outside the classroom. That’s a good place to start if you’re looking to increase the significance factor.

Another of Miss Yang’s favorites: A family with three children for whom she once sat gave her a simple charm bracelet with a heart, a star and a ballet slipper, the latter marking the 17 years she had spent dancing.

Some helpers cherish handmade gifts, cards and drawings, keeping them for years. The simple gesture means a lot to high school teachers, one said, because it indicates that a busy, hormonally challenged teen put in some time.

Does the helper drive a lot? One baby sitter touted an emergency car kit as the best gift ever.

In San Francisco, Juan Bunci, 31, is a part-time SAT tutor. His best ever was a $250 gift card to a website offering harbor cruises, dinners out and a variety of other outings in the Bay Area.

There are many sites filled with fun classes, trips, restaurant deals and other amusements and services around the world in a broad range of prices, so look around.

“I used it to go sailing in the bay and also took rock-climbing classes,” he said. “I’m hoping more of my clients give me these because I really don’t want more crappy stuff.”

Candi Wingate, president of the nanny search site Nannies4hire, said a variety of variables are at play when considering holiday cash or other gifts for sitters, including years with the family and the number of children involved.

For Jan Fogel, 59, in Washington, D.C., a generous check meant a lot from one Chevy Chase, Md., family that had one toddler when she began and three children by the time she left seven years later.

“It was my first Christmas with the family, and they’d given me an envelope just before I left the house,” she said. “While waiting for the Metro train home, I opened the envelope and found a check for $1,000. I started to cry. No one had ever been that generous to me before.”

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