'I don’t need Christmas gifts (especially fish) because the moments of utter joy I get doing the job I do is enough'

Being in a school is the greatest gift, it is the best Christmas present any one in education could want, writes one leading headteacher

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I was once gifted a strange fish on the last day of the Christmas term. Wrapped in dissolving newspaper and handed across my desk with a massive smile (the child not the fish). It didn’t smell great and looked like no fish I had ever seen before.

I had no idea where it had come from; I hoped it was from the sea and not someone’s aquarium.

I mustered my best "Oh, you shouldn’t have" face and thanked the child for such a considerate gesture.

“Fish!” was all the child kept saying.

It was the end of the day and I was now realising why the cloakroom was filled with a swarm of flies and smelt like the dead.

I tried to work out how to dispose of the body without offending anyone. If I couldn’t tactfully lose it, the tube journey home was going to be an interesting one.

Thinking about this makes me realise how lucky I have been to be a teacher; the simple joys in the often surreal moments that come out of the job.

It is these moments, often born from good intentions, which make teaching the greatest job in the world.

I am not sure how many other jobs not only pay you but include receiving gifts at Christmas and the summer holidays (including the crazy ones).

Another gift I once received, wrapped up in a plastic carrier bag, was six 18-rated PlayStation games. I had mentioned in class how much I loved playing computer games at home.  

It was not an unusual teacher tactic, mentioning your birthday is basic training on day one of teacher school. I just kept thinking, what do I say? “Thank you! I’m just calling social services…”

In fact, when I think about it, I have been given some pretty impressive gifts over the years:

Many bottles of wine, whisky, vodka, gin, liqueurs and brew your own beer kits. (For some reason parent’s think I'm an alcoholic – I am now).

Novelty Pants (including some very inappropriate elephant briefs), novelty socks (yes, I love taking my wife for a romantic meal with SpongeBob socks), a snood (which is a hood that has 100 uses – all less impressive than being a hood) novelty ties which play Jingle Bells every time I moved (and am expected to wear in January) and slippers with furry baubbles.

Chocolate that has melted, made me sick, was white when it should not be, spelt a rude word (which the parent had gone to the trouble of arranging by opening the chocolate packaging – proper dedication!) and a skip full of Quality Street

A fake gold watch, a hoodie and (I kid you not) a ceremonial horse cavalry sword.

I might sound ungrateful. I am not. I love each and every gift and thank my lucky stars that someone has even spent five minutes thinking about me on a cold wet Saturday afternoon.

The fact that a teacher is thought about after school is something to be celebrated. I wonder if the CEO of Burger King has children asking their parents to send them a gift? Even if it is pair of garden Gnomes drinking cider (Oh yes I did!)

Once I became a headteacher the gifts dried up a little and they now tend to be much more appropriate (and boring).

But the point of this is that I don’t need any gifts (especially fish!) because doing the job I do is enough.

The real gift of working in a school is in knowing that you make a difference. It is a great feeling.

You don’t always get it. There are times when you think, what am I doing? What is the point? And then a moment of utter joy hits you…

You witness the jigsaw of learning coming together.

You hear children's song as it drifts down the corridor.

You see a child smile for the first time since their brother died.

You hear that the adoption papers have come through.

You watch a new friendship grow.

You witness the fallout of knowledge and skills colliding and the possibilities it creates.

You get to see that young, uncertain child from nursery walk out on the last day of primary school ready to be who they are as you pretend you have something in your eye.

Being in a school is the greatest gift, it is the best Christmas present any one in education could want.

Let us not forget that as we munch a home-baked mince pie with our face crafted on top (Yep... That one as well).

Brian Walton is headteacher of Brookside Academy in Somerset. He tweets as @Oldprimaryhead1

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