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Instead of expensive gifts for teachers, how about parents thank them? It means more, and it's free

Why have we got ourselves into the silly position of thinking that every teacher has to be bought a present at the end of every school year?
  • @SusanElkinJourn

An apple for the teacher might once have been a well meant gesture but no parent should feel obliged to tip their children’s teachers with expensive gifts.

I worked for a while in an independent school where one teacher was given a case of single malt by a parent and by another a box of first editions. Bear in mind that these fathers were already paying very expensive fee bills. Goodness knows why they thought additional largesse was called for.

Term ends in most schools this week and teachers, according to a Netmums survey, seem to be staggering home with ever larger armfuls of presents from ‘grateful’ (maybe) parents. Parents are spending an average of £10 on each gift and 50 per cent more than six months ago are spending over £20.

It’s absurd, of course. Teachers are merely doing the job they’ve been paid to do – and pretty well paid by the standards of many others. Most of us don’t give a bus driver a present for driving us to work, the GP a gift for issuing a prescription, or take flowers to the public library for the librarian. So why have we got ourselves into the silly position of thinking that every teacher has to be bought a present at the end of every school year?

I was a teacher for a very long time and yes, sometimes pupils did arrive with a gift, but not usually until they were leaving the school and wanting to formalise the farewell. Even so, most of it was an embarrassment. Few pupils and parents know their teachers well enough to buy gifts which are remotely right for the recipient and, the truth is that much of what I acquired – all those ornaments - soon found its way quietly to charity shops. Even chocolates and wine are a minefield if you don’t know what a person really likes. What a waste of money and effort.

So why is it spiralling out of control now? According to Siobahn Freegard of Netmums, for an increasing number of parents this is about status and competing to see who can give the most impressive gift. There is, apparently, playground rivalry among the mothers just as there is between their children. I suppose those fathers vying with each other to give my former colleague the flashiest gift were just a bit ahead of their time. Such topsy turvy values and childishness is a woeful example for their offspring whatever sort of school they attend.

Moreover the Netmums survey reports that one in ten of mothers who responded to the poll say that finances are so tight they have had to cut back on food and other basics in order to pay for teachers’ end of term presents.  It is almost obscene that a parent struggling to make ends meet should be scrimping to buy for a well paid teacher a present which is neither wanted or needed.

When I started secondary school as a pupil we and our parents were firmly told that there was to be no present giving in school. We were not allowed to bring presents to school for each other, for teachers or under any other circumstances. If it seemed a bit odd at first we quickly got used to it and present-free school simply became a way of life for the whole of the seven years we were there. Wise woman, our somewhat old fashioned headmistress. She knew how easily present giving can get out of hand so she had a rule which pre-empted it. Problem solved before it happened.  It would be a sensible policy for all schools now.

What I really liked as teacher – if a parent or pupil was particularly pleased with the way things had gone - was simply to be thanked. A few words in person, a letter or card (or these days an email) really made my day and reminded me what a great job teaching can be. It happened sometimes and always seemed more sincere. And it cost nothing.