It was one of those seemingly innocuous little posts on social media that suddenly left everyone very hot under the collar and me thinking I had at last turned into my mother. In fact by the end of it I felt like some latter-day Mrs Scrooge.
It began with a simple enough question from the mother of a little boy in nursery along the lines of what’s everyone buying their teacher for end of term this year? And suddenly everyone had an opinion, including me, which is a bit rich really since it’s a long time since I had any children at school, though I can tell you now the answer in my day would have been ‘absolutely nothing’. We just didn’t, did we? Not even an apple for the teacher. And I don’t really know where it’s come from to so quickly become such a source of anguish if you don’t, or can’t, join in. Well I do really. The gift card and retail industry are very happy about this new and in my book totally unnecessary practice. And I tell you why it’s unnecessary, because it can so easily get out of hand and there will be parents who quite simply can’t afford to but will be made to think they are somehow letting their children down if they don’t.
The response to this first world question posted on Facebook this week was staggering. One mum seemed to feel totally inadequate because she had completely forgotten what she obviously believed was now expected of her and had raced home to grab both chocolates and a bottle of wine from the fridge, which in turn led to at least one teacher suggesting it wasn’t too difficult to find out what Mr or Miss’s favourite tipple was and rewarding them with that. Hang on, I thought, this is about the child bringing in a small present for the teacher not handing over a bottle of craft gin when he or she is a decade away from being able to sample it. Actually I thought alcohol was banned on most school premises or is it ok if it’s for the teacher?
One parent suggested everyone should put a fiver in and so hand over a voucher or the cash to the value of around £150, while another suggested £10 was the appropriate amount to spend. And so it went on. I am told at one private school down South the head teacher had been forced to put a limit of £50 on the end of year gifts. It seems they were literally tripping over the Prada or Jo Malone bags in the corridor. £50! Ridiculous.
And yet for me the question is not what, but why ? The little boy whose mother started the debate hadn’t passed some momentous life changing exam. He hadn’t been taught during the lunch hour how to play a musical instrument or taken part in some sporting endeavour out of school hours, as far as I know. He is three years old and at nursery!
Before we go any further this is not a moan about teachers or their value. Of course they should be valued. Nor am I going to complain, like some, that they are all embarking on a long and paid for six week holiday. Anyone who stands in front of a class of kids day after day deserves a good break in my book. Nor am I going to suggest they shouldn’t receive our grateful thanks. Of course they should. They perform what can be a pretty thankless task and a parent who acknowledges all that they do is much appreciated. Nor would I be as blunt as to say it’s their job, as some did on this Facebook post. It is, though a particularly tough one in my book. I certainly couldn’t do it. I find it exhausting entertaining one three-year-old for several hours, let alone 30, day in day out.
No, what I object to is the industry which has grown up surrounding presents for the teacher and all the peer pressure that seems to go with it. Go online or into any shop around this time of year and you will be bombarded with ‘best teacher’ paraphernalia, or ‘tat’ as one Facebook mother described it. Tat it may be but it still costs more than many a parent can afford, but then if everyone else is joining in you don’t want yours feeling left out do you?
It’s all just so American and no, I am not being tight. As soon as the children get back to school shops will start bombarding them with what used to be mischief night and the day after, Hallowe’en, which while my back was turned has suddenly turned into the commercial entity that is trick or treat. And don’t get me started on the ridiculous costly business of the school ‘prom’ with expensive long frocks, extravagant hair dos and the ubiquitous stretch limos that are seemingly the only way to travel. Whatever happened to the end of term disco when you were asked to provide a few sandwiches to make the party go with a swing? And the greatest decision to be made about what to take for the last day of school was which game to bring in. ( You see I told you I had turned into my mother).
In the end common sense prevailed on the great Facebook pressie debate with the consensus from many teachers and indeed the little boy’s mum that a hand made card and possibly a home made present like a cupcake would suffice, coupled with a genuine ‘thank you’. At least it’s thoughtful and involved the children. And according to some teachers was something to save and treasure.
And if I were a headteacher that’s what I would be saying to parents. Or better still how about this for an idea. No gifts but instead a small amount to buy books or send a donation to one of the many charities that seeks to provide education for the 264 million children in the world who don’t get any at all. Now that would be a lesson worth learning.