I'm coming up to eleven years as a primary school teacher and in that time I've had a fair few presents, both at the end of year and at Christmas. I have always been grateful for every single present, the fact that a child in my class (or their parent) valued the contribution that I had played to their education and wellbeing during the previous year means so much to me, and I would imagine to any teacher.
I'll state right now for the record that it is about the fact that I've been given a present, not what the present is, that counts. And I can say that with my hand on my heart because I am now in a position in my school where I don't receive any thank you presents any more. As I work part-time, I am one of those few members of staff known as PPA teachers: I cover the class while their own teacher is released once a week for planning, preparation and assessment time. As I am not there all the time, or am not the one to sort out arguments, listen to news, wipe tears or get the chance to build relationships, I'm not in the forefront of the children's (or parents') minds. Yes it hurts, it certainly did last year. I'd be lying if I said otherwise, but it's not deliberate and I know that.
I asked earlier on twitter if people were interested in knowing some present suggestions, but this time from a teacher, and I was swamped with a plethora of affirmations. As I've said, any present is welcome (especially for the lowly PPA teachers *sob*) but if you don't want to waste your hard-earned cash then here's some tips of what not to buy, and what is always appreciated.
- Toiletries: This is top of my list because of all the toiletries that I've been given, I have never used a single one. Smellies are an incredibly personal thing to buy; you don't know if the teacher has an allergy or sensitivity, if they won't use anything that's been tested on animals, etc. I only use fragrance-free toiletries and they don't tend to make nice gifts. Toiletries are also quite an expensive present if you want to get something looking halfway decent. Don't waste your money on them.
- Candles: You're probably wondering why this is a no-no? I've got a three year old, I can't light a candle with him around, can I? Most candles have fragrances attached, and let's face it that here you're getting into the territory that goes with toiletries. I'm not adverse to a cinnamon-scented candle, or vanilla, but my taste it different to someone else's. I have a box of 30+ candles (all presents) under the stairs which get used in case of a powercut and that is the only time.
- 'Best Teacher' mugs: or calendars, teddies, notepads, mousemats, pencils, etc. It's fantastic that the child thinks that you are, of course it is, but there's only so many of those mugs I can use. Most end up in the staffroom cupboard stained with tea (because the staffroom sink is a disgusting thing that no normal human would touch if it was in someone's house) or as plant pots. I've only ever kept one of these, and that was one given five years ago by a girl who had painted it herself. They are cute for a 7 year old to give, but not for a grown adult to use.
- Cash: Yes, seriously. I was once given £30 cash in a card. The card was beautiful, explaining how the girl's parents appreciated everything I'd done and how much support I'd given her, but it felt wrong. It felt like a 'tip' on the bedstead. Don't ask me why, I just wasn't comfortable with it. Added to the fact that it came from a woman who was actually one of my sister's longest friends, I just felt incredibly uneasy.
- Chocolates: I know that they are a cliché but you'd be hard pressed to screw up with a box of chocolates. While I like mint chocolates, they aren't always a good thing to get: Heroes, Quality Street, Roses, etc. are a safe option. If your child wants to do a 'Best Teacher' message, this is a good place to do it. It's endearing and tasty, Thorntons do them on chocolate slabs.
- Wine: I considered putting this in the 'no-nos' category too, because again it's quite a personal thing. Red, white, rosé, fizzy? It's an appreciated present, especially if it's a decent bottle, but it might be one that you want to do some reconnaisance on first. The best one I had was a bottle of pink champagne!
- Flowers or plants: You can't really go wrong with a nice bunch of flowers, but not the ones that have been shoved in food colouring and come from a garage. Please? MummyMummyMum asked me earlier on twitter if a home-grown chilli plant would be ok, and I would say 'YES!' because it's different! A lavender plant, strawberry plant, something different and inventive like that is excellent!
- Vouchers: I once had a voucher for a head massage, that was lovely! The other one I had was for an afternoon tea for two and I took my mum which she loved. Something purposeful like that is great.
- Cake or home-made food: Some teachers would argue with me on this one because you can never guarantee the hygiene standard, but generally a home-made culinary present would go down a treat. I've seen some of the cakes that bloggers make and parcel up in those cardboard boxes from Asda, and they look fantastic and very thoughtful. I think my best present was a chocolate cake made my one of my favourite parents in my first school. She knew I loved the cake and cooked a huge slab for me, attaching an envelope with the recipe in it.
- Coffee: I saw a wonderful idea from Domestic Goddesque who was responsible for collecting money in for a whole class present to teachers. She bought a resuable plastic coffee cup from Starbucks and a £10 gift card. On the sleeve around the cup she wrote 'Thanks' and placed the cup, the voucher and a packet of Oreo cookies into a cellophane gift bag for the teacher. (Obviously check the teacher is a coffee drinker first!)
I'd like to point out two more factors when it comes to buying a present:
- Find out something about the teacher, and base the present on that. Buying chocolates for a teacher who is dieting is not a good move, likewise buying wine for a pregnant teacher is a bit daft. Something personal and relevant to them is always best. Has she got pierced ears? Earrings probably aren't a good choice then.
- Know the staff! Your child is rarely taught by just one person; I bet there's a learning support assistant and a PPA teachers who works with them? I work with 350 of the 450+ children in my school, how many parents realise that? Does your child have extra support for English or Maths, or maybe they see someone to challenge them if they are More Able and Talented? There's a lot more staff who help your child than just the class teacher.
The best present is a card (possibly home-made) expressing how much appreciation you have for the work that the recipient has put into helping your child in that year. If I could have just one thing it would be a card that said, "Thank you for teaching me how to ….", I'd probably cry to be honest. A card which actually has more than 'To Miss/Mr/Mrs X/Y/Z (insert printed message here) from Johnny/Edna/Tabitha" that actually shows some thought has gone into it, is way better than the most expensive present.
Thanks to Domestic Goddesque for the use of the photograph.