A big sigh of relief – the holidays are here. I’m doing a jolly dance around a pile of presents and cards that generous students, or more likely, their appreciative parents, have given me. This year, along with the chocolates and flowers, I’ve had a Mama Mia DVD and an African tribal mask, which you might think are odd choices but make some sense since the student who gave it has spent time in Kenya and, I hope, was inspired by some lessons about African tribal dance. The DVD leaves me baffled, unless the donor found it as a special offer. At least he didn’t get me Bad Teacher, which would have been very cutting.
Joking apart, presents can be rather tricky. Is it a measure of popularity? Chances are the number of presents received is in proportion to the age of the children taught. By the time they’re 17, the sweet little girls and cheeky boys that always had a hand-drawn card with a ‘thank you teacher‘ note printed inside would think it very uncool to present any teacher with anything, which is why the 18-year-olds organise and buy us all group presents. This year, we all had a standard box of chocolates, which was a nice gesture.
What happens when the gestures become rather too extravagant? I’ve never been in this position, but I met a group of teachers from a school in the Middle East where the son of a sheikh had given all his teachers the same gift. It was a set of flowers, chocolates, Channel perfume for the women or Poco Rabanne aftershave for the men and a mobile phone for each; the men’s was silver and black with the latest gadgetry while the women’s was pink with gold trim – that’s 18-carat-gold trim. As one of the teachers said: “I don’t dare use it because I’m afraid of being robbed, and I don’t dare sell it because if the sheikh found out, it would cause offence.”
I’m pretty sure that’s a parent you wouldn’t want to offend.
When does a gift stop being a gesture of good will and become a bribe? I think gold telephones and designer perfume have crossed the line. It would be very difficult to give a pupil a failing grade with their perfume behind your ears, or phone home to complain of poor quality work on that telephone. Some parents in the UK are so disenchanted by what has become a commercial market – card shops produce hideous mugs with the legend FOR MY BEST TEACHER – that many are refusing to spend money on such things, which would be a relief to me because I can’t imagine using them.
The best gifts are the notes and words students give that show they’ll remember at least something they learnt.