Hands up if you have a pair (or six) of “world’s greatest teacher” socks lurking at the back of a drawer somewhere; or a novelty mug with a now faded and coffee-stained picture of Homer Simpson circa 1992; or perhaps even – cringe – a “funny” tie?
We have all, over the years, been subjected to an array of incredibly well-meaning but ultimately misjudged presents from colleagues and students. And the thought does not go unnoticed: everyone appreciates a thank you. But what are the best presents you can get as a teacher?
1. Something that involves 'group effort'
First up, group effort is often a great shout. The best presents are (usually) the ones where your whole class has got together and made a team effort to buy one big present rather than lots of little ones – there are only so many family-sized boxes of Celebrations that one person can eat over the summer holidays.
One year, one of my colleagues at the primary school was given a very generous gift voucher for a very lovely shop. Apparently, the parents decided to group together and do it that way rather than all making a last-minute dash to the supermarket for socks and chocs.
2. Something personal
Things that actually mean something are always better. Just like at Christmas, the best gifts are always the ones that are the most personal. An A-level group clubbed together one year to buy me a very beautiful illustrated version of the book we had been studying, and then they all highlighted their favourite passages from our lessons with their names and their reasons for choosing that passage. I still treasure that because of the thought that went into it and also the specific link to that group.
3. Handmade presents
I received another great gift in the year I left to go on maternity leave. My truly lovely tutor group made me a hamper of baby-related things, including some toys that they had made in over lunchtimes. My – now three-year-old – child still plays with those toys and, every time they come out, I am reminded of the students who made them and the time and thought that went into their (ever-so-slightly bonkers) creations.
4. Just a 'thank you'
Finally – and most importantly – it has to be said that the best gifts are the ones that don’t cost anything: the simple “thank you”; the homemade and heartfelt cards with the best messages about why that student/parent/teacher thinks you are great. The simplest message can be the best; it can be nothing more than a reminder of "that tiny thing you did that I still think about even though you have forgotten". Those messages are what everything is for: all the late evenings and early mornings; the emails and phone calls; the hours of marking and planning.
Let’s face it: a pair of socks is never going to make you cry. But that slightly dog-eared card from Sam Jones in Year 7 who now loves reading? That’s why we come to work, isn’t it?
Katie White is an English teacher in Devon