Beaufort County teachers recount funny, touching holiday gifts

Educators sometimes dazzled with diamonds, feted with footwear

rheaton@beaufortgazette.comDecember 24, 2011 

The adage may call for giving an apple to a teacher, but teachers in the Beaufort County School District often get much more than a piece of fruit as holiday gifts.

Sometimes, the gifts are funny. This year Sean Rochester, a seventh-grade social studies teacher at Hilton Head Island Middle School, received a bright-blue "Forever Lazy" -- a blanket with a hood and arm and leg holes.

"Obviously, I wore it the rest of the day on Friday," Rochester wrote in an email.

Jenny McKenzie, an instructional technology specialist at Beaufort and Lady's Island middle schools and a former history teacher, said one year she and other teachers received foam-dart guns so they could battle each other.

McKenzie also mentioned several presents that fall into many educators' favorite category: handmade gifts.

Once, a student cross-stitched and framed "I love History," for her. Adding to the gift's charm, the student ran out of room on one line and had to break "history" up into "His" and "tory."

She also said she saves all of the handwritten cards her students have given her. Her favorites are those written by students still learning English.

Xinfang Chen, the second-grade Chinese teacher at Hilton Head Island Elementary, said her favorite gift this year was a basket made completely of recycled Chinese newspaper. It was given to her during a holiday celebration in her class that featured Chinese songs and poetry. She said she plans to keep the basket in her classroom.

Often, teachers said, it's the thought that counts.

Stephanie Farris, who is a job coach and independent-studies teacher at Hilton Head Island High School, said one of her most memorable gifts came from a third-grade student she taught in Delaware.

The girl gave her a one ounce vial of perfume -- one of the free samples distributed at department store fragrance counters.

"(She was) so proud of her gift-giving," Farris wrote in an email. "I was truly touched."

Here's a few more touching gifts teachers have received:


When Lori Baggett was a third-grade teacher, she received an unexpected bit of bling -- a real diamond ring.

"He had taken it out of his mother's jewelry box without her knowing, wrapped it up in toilet paper and put it in a paper bag with a ribbon around it," wrote Baggett, a second-grade teacher at Lady's Island Elementary School.

The boy was excited and asked her to open the gift in front of his classmates.

Baggett said she was touched by his thoughtfulness, but figured his mom would want her ring back.

She called the boy's mother, who said she was surprised by the token but that it expressed how much he enjoyed having Baggett as a teacher.

"I do know he adores you, and this certainly shows his love," the mother told Baggett, who returned the ring.


Vineeta Stottlemyer, a ninth-grade science teacher at Hilton Head Island High, said this year one of her students tapped into her love of ethnic food.

Stottlemyer was born in India but moved to the U.S. when she was young. Her father pursued a doctorate degree, and she remembers many pot-luck dinners with international student associations.

"That's probably why I have an appreciation for ethnic foods," she said.

When she called roll on the first day of school this year, she noticed on girl had an Italian last name. She asked the student if her mom made pasta sauce from scratch. The girl replied, "Of course!"

For Christmas, the girl gave Stottlemyer a box of pasta and her mom's homemade sauce.

"I didn't even share it with my husband. It was that good!" Stottlemyer wrote.

Stottlemyer is still on a quest to perfect her own pasta sauce recipe.

"I think one must have Italian blood to make the perfect sauce," she said.


Mary Ellen Parks began her teaching career in Havre de Grace, Md. Her first-grade students were accustomed to simple things, she wrote, such as fishing, swimming, climbing trees and helping out on their family farms. She expected most presents would be homemade and heartfelt.

One student, a blond, blue-eyed boy named Sonny, gave her a gift that stood out.

"It took him a little longer to catch on to things, but his heart was huge, and he always did his best," Parks, who is now the principal at Shell Point Elementary School, wrote about Sonny.

Sonny made a Christmas stocking from fabric that likely was from a scrap box of material, Parks said.

Inside the stocking was a letter from Sonny's mom, who wrote about how much her son loved being in Parks' class.

"It touched my heart to know this family appreciated the fact that I would take my time with their son, helping him learn in his own way," Parks wrote.

Since then, Parks has hung "Sonny's Sock" on her Christmas tree. It's a tradition her own children now look forward to, as well.

She hung the stocking up again this year, and said she wondered where Sonny is today -- how life has treated him and if he has his own family.

"I still read the letter, smile and know that I chose the right profession," Parks said.

Follow reporter Rachel Heaton at

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