Let me begin with a disclaimer: I really, really like my daughter’s teachers.
She goes to an excellent school, where all of the staff are friendly, helpful, patient, and above all else, bloody good at their jobs. They’ve taught my daughter lessons she’ll keep for the rest of her life, and made her feel happy and secure in an environment that can be overwhelming for even the most confident of children. Do they deserve thanks for their hard work?
Of course they do. The problem is that that I also have two sons – and I really, really like their teachers too.
In fact, between my three children, I have a total of 11 headteachers, teachers, and teaching assistants that are worthy of all of my love, affection and eternal gratitude. But for all of their virtues, this year, for the first time ever, I shan’t be parting with any of my hard-earned cash to show it to them.
It’s taken me a long time to free myself from the teacher present trap. When my eldest started reception, I dashed around Sainsbury’s with a basketful of Milk Tray and bottles of wine, mentally totting them up to ensure everyone was catered for. When my little boy joined her at the school two years later, I upgraded to a trolley.
As they grew, so did the trend for collections – and I happily handed in my £10 to each head school gate mum, dutifully playing (and paying) my part so the long-suffering teachers could have spa days or Amazon vouchers. I then filled in the gaps for TAs with cheap scented candles or pot plants – I didn’t want anyone to feel they were going without.
The fact that the staff were given gifts at all wasn’t something I ever questioned – it was the done thing, and I couldn’t stand the thought of my child’s name being left off the group card, or them being embarrassed at being the only one to turn up on the last day of term empty handed.
It wasn’t until after summer last year, when we were having a particularly lean month, that I went over my budget and realised that between my three children, I’d spent over £100 ‘thanking’ their teachers (and their support) for their contribution. That triple figure total touched a nerve; enough was enough.
That £100 could have gone towards a day out, new school uniforms or even just the weekly food shop. Why was I paying it out just to reward someone for doing their job, even if it is an admittedly challenging one?
There are very few jobs where you get showered with gifts on a bi-annual basis just for meeting your targets. Imagine if you brought the bus driver a box of beauty products for getting you and the kids to your destination, or tipped the lifeguard every time they completed a successful swim. I’m not saying that teachers don’t deserve plenty of praise and appreciation – I’m just saying you don’t have to bankrupt yourself to give it to them.
Plus, we’ve had to tighten our belts a bit recently, but in general, we’re not badly off – so I dread to think of the pressure that families who are having financial difficulties feel at this time of year. There are mums who struggle to send their kids to school with breakfast in their bellies, let alone biscuits for the staff room, and I decided that I no longer want to participate in a tradition that, however inadvertently, makes them worry about both.
Studies have shown that teachers receive an average of £225 worth of presents each year, and if they were really honest with themselves, I bet most of them wished they didn’t. Of course, it’s never a bad thing to receive a box of chocolates or a bottle of booze, but no one needs 30 of them in one go, and expensive vouchers aside, I imagine they’re also in possession of a small mountain of ‘No 1 Teacher’ mugs and naff ornaments that mysteriously don’t make it through to the following September.
And so, my children will be entering their classrooms for the last time this term with nothing more than a homemade card, cobbled together with the craft supplies that are already in the cupboard. And I’ll wish their teachers a lovely summer with a smile on my face, a genuine sentiment in my voice, and a hundred extra quid in my pocket.