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Encore: Teachers Share Memorable Gifts From Students

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

This time of year, millions of schoolchildren have to make a big decision. What should they give their teachers for the holidays? Last year, the NPR education team asked teachers to share their stories of memorable gifts from students. Some were strange, but they were mostly sweet. So this Christmas, we are re-gifting you their stories. Here's Ryan Delaney of St. Louis Public Radio.

(SOUNDBITE OF NPR BROADCAST)

RYAN DELANEY: Pamela Brashear tells the story just like any other Christmas tale.

PAMELA BRASHEAR: It was December 17, 1999, the last day of school before Christmas break.

DELANEY: Back then, Brashear was a few years into her teaching career at an elementary school in Viper, Ky. She says a quiet girl from a tough home came up to her and said she had a gift. The girl presented Brashear with a small purse. It was a little worn and faded even then. Inside was a single penny.

BRASHEAR: So I knew in my heart that this gift was most likely all she had to give.

DELANEY: Brashear tried not to tear up as the student insisted she keep the purse. Over two decades of teaching, she's kept all her gifts from students.

BRASHEAR: But this one has this place of honor under my Christmas tree every year. It reminds me of why we give gifts to others.

DELANEY: We got so many stories like this - a young student giving a teacher a half-full bottle of shampoo, a favorite pink folder or, in one case, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich stuffed in a plain white envelope. We also got some eye-popping stories. Denise Breyne says she was about to leave her position teaching at an alternative school in suburban Chicago when one of her students presented her with his spare glass eye.

DENISE BREYNE: Kind of gross but really kind of wonderful.

DELANEY: She says it represents the power of acceptance. And yes, if you're wondering, she kept it.

BREYNE: Yeah. It just sits in a box in a jar.

DELANEY: Michelle Fyfe is a teacher and cross-country coach in Fayetteville, Ark. She says at the start of one season, a runner on her team named his pig after her. Michelle the pig won a blue ribbon at the county fair.

MICHELLE FYFE: She was a looker, let me tell you.

DELANEY: Then, in December, Fyfe got two gift bags full of bacon and pork cuts at the team dinner. It was Michelle. And while it was odd to eat something named after her, Fyfe says it tops all the great thank-you notes from students.

FYFE: No one has ever really thought out that long of a gift.

KEIRA DURRETT: They came in with the book. It was wrapped.

DELANEY: Keira Durrett is a teacher at an early childhood center in Easthampton, Mass. She says 14 years ago, she had a star student who was already a strong reader.

DURRETT: Very precocious, incredibly big heart.

DELANEY: Before moving on to kindergarten, the student's family gave Durrett a copy of "The Giving Tree" by Shel Silverstein. Inside, they left a CD.

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UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT: (Reading) Once, there was a tree.

DELANEY: It was a recording of the student reading the book.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT: (Reading) And she loved a little boy.

DELANEY: The girl is all grown up now, and Durrett recently listened to that CD for the first time in years.

DURRETT: That's exactly how I remember her - exactly. The voice is exactly the same.

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UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT: (Reading) I wish that I could give you something, but I have nothing left.

DURRETT: This book, to me, symbolizes exactly why I do this work.

DELANEY: For NPR News, I'm Ryan Delaney in St. Louis.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT: (Reading) The end.

(SOUNDBITE OF VINCE GUARALDI TRIO'S "LINUS AND LUCY")

SHAPIRO: Thanks to the staff of ALL THINGS CONSIDERED and everybody at our local stations who's working this holiday. We hope you have a merry Christmas from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.