When it comes to Christmas presents, primary teachers get the lion’s share – and rightly so. They’ve spent an entire year with the same group, through ups and downs, sickness and broken bones, camps and show-and-tells. Primary teachers come to know their students intently and, in return, their students come to know them.
Which means that by Term 4, primary students have their teachers pegged. They know their fancies and their foibles and, if so inclined, give Christmas presents accordingly. Football socks for the team you so hopefully, hopelessly barrack for. A scarf hand-knitted – lovingly, imperfectly – over months. A jar of home-made olives. A selection of your favourite chocolates (not to be confused with a box of Favourites). A rom-com DVD featuring Ryan Gosling (of course). A notebook for that novel you keep saying you’ll write one day.
Sometimes, though, the most well-meaning presents can miss the mark. One friend recounts being given a Britney Spears perfume, with the child insisting she spray it on. “It was a long day,” she recalls, nose crinkled. Another received a sparkly chain adorned with the word ‘Sexy’.
I’ve heard it said – usually by colleagues working in exclusive private schools – that gift-buying has almost become a competitive sport for some parents. The stakes are highest when a teacher will be continuing with the same cohort the following year. Such teachers are often lavished with ‘gold star’ gifts. A voucher for a day spa. A new iPad. A pony! (Well, a weekend horse-riding experience, at least.)
Being a secondary teacher – of Years 7 to 10, no less – I am, as a rule, grateful for anything.
As a secondary teacher in the public system, though, my Christmas stocking is rarely filled. In the final days of school, I count my blessings as I sip from my new ‘World’s Greatest Teacher’ mug and poke about in the Favourites box, before returning to the staffroom to find a dozen other teachers also drinking from their shiny new ‘World’s Greatest Teacher’ mugs and hoping to trade a Picnic for a Bounty.
While I’m on the topic, the ‘World’s Greatest Teacher/Father/Mother/Aunty/Golfer/Friend’ market is an outrage. The joy one experiences upon receiving an emblazoned mug/hat/keyring is as short-lived as the realisation that it is one of x number of items made globally – and that not only are we not the greatest, in the scheme of things we might not even be that great. And suddenly we are reaching for all the chocolates in the box, even the Moros and Dreams at the very bottom…
But I digress. As a secondary teacher – particularly of Years 7 to 10 – I am, as a rule, grateful for anything. The modus operandi of this age group is to remain as invisible and emotionally detached from adults as possible, especially from English teachers who’ve critiqued their free verse poetry.
‘Gross,’ says my teenage niece, who would rather ‘literally die’ than have teachers wrongly assume she takes an interest in their ancient and repellent lives.
‘Embarrassing!’ whine my teenage nephews when I ask why they don’t give their teachers Christmas gifts. ‘Gross,’ says my teenage niece, who would rather ‘literally die’ than have teachers wrongly assume she takes an interest in their ancient and repellent lives.
An adult friend recalls leaving a handmade card on a secondary teacher’s desk then running out, “blushing to the very roots of my hair in case they, or worse, any of my classmates would see me”. No hand-knitted scarves or hand-painted baubles from this age group.
It’s only when students reach Year 12 that Christmas gifts make a reappearance, and with a whole new significance. Students know how hard you’ve worked for them. They see your foibles and they actually like you because of them. They’ve come to appreciate your sense of humour, even if they roll their eyes. They offer presents that are sentimental. A copy of Sylvia Plath’s journals with a note inside. A Lonely Planet guide for your next holiday. A photo of the class group with heartfelt messages written on the back.
Christmas is coming, so get your ‘gift face’ on and have a suitable response at the ready. Enjoy the chocolates and wine, and even the ‘World’s Greatest Teacher’ mug, because, after all, you really are the greatest. And for everything else, there’s always regifting, and/or saving it for next year’s office Secret Santa.