I’m a little bit dreading the end of term because of the Christmas presents. What if my form doesn’t give me anything? Will I have to watch my colleagues as they heave hundreds of boxes of chocolates into their cars?
Last year, a fellow teacher in the craft and design department rigged up a trolley especially so he could wheel away his hoard. How do I deal with this?
The Christmas present conundrum
You may think you’re alone – but you’re not. More colleagues than you can imagine will have endured the agony of no or few presents. They just don’t admit it.
One time I taught a sixth-form group with another teacher. She was showered with scarves at Christmas – and not just scarves, but huge explanations about where the scarves came from, what to do with them, etc – while I got nothing.
I honestly don’t think they thought any less of me as their teacher. Children, even sixth-formers, are so random, aren’t they? And tact is yet to develop. Perhaps they thought I had everything already.
The first year I was a form tutor, I was as good as buried alive at Christmas with shower gel, ties, chocs, ornaments and novelty socks (which I forgot, criminally, to wear subsequently).
Some teachers attract presents
The next year, a different form, just one packet of biscuits. It was them, not me; the first lot were given to drama. You could just imagine them going mad in shops. The second lot were puritanical, although only 13, and frightfully self-sufficient. I was surplus to their requirements on the whole.
It may not be anything to do with you. That’s what I’m trying to say. Some teachers, you know, have got ways of seeing to it that they get masses of presents.
They might go so far as to give a lesson on “Some lovely gift ideas for your teacher at Christmas”. They’re dropping hints all through the autumn term. They convey this great need for presents, and the younger pupils in particular just can’t help it. They fall straight into the trap, wanting to be nice.
So one solution to your problem could be to become this sort of a teacher, although it’s a bit late now, with Christmas upon us. But remember in good time for next year – if that’s the path you wish to tread.
I should add that this rather manipulative educator will often parade their gifts in the staffroom. “Oh look,” they will say, “my pupils have made this beautiful card for me. They’ve all done their self-portraits and signed them.” They might even cry.
Developing a fan base
Vast numbers of presents may indicate popularity of some kind. If the teacher is young, has fascinating clothes or hair, is wildly good-looking and given to making mysterious remarks about a possible girlfriend or boyfriend, then it’s not surprising if they develop a fan base. There’s a feverish celebrity aspect to it all.
But is this what really matters? There was a head of department in my school who was very fierce and dedicated. I’m sure nobody would have dared shower him with presents. But, when he got shut in a cupboard one time at the end of term, his pupils were very upset. “I have so much respect for him,” one of them said.
All the same, nobody likes to be left out. It shouldn’t happen. Falkirk Council, in 2017, tried to ban present-giving altogether, as have some schools elsewhere. The fascist in me is attracted to this idea. Or give the money to charity. But, really, it’s a bit grim.
So there’s no choice, if you’re an under-presented teacher this Christmas, but to rise above it.
Let the supply teacher eat cake
I’ve had an intriguing letter from Fiona M Jones, a supply teacher. It’s mostly about food.
She paints an enticing picture of staffrooms sumptuously laid out with indulgent food items. One time somebody was going on maternity leave "the coffee tables were loaded with cakes and savouries".
But is any of it for her? Does she, as a supply teacher, belong? Can she help herself to the food, along with everybody else?
She is keen to point out that fellow teachers do make some effort: “I will say that at least one person in most staffrooms shows at least momentary willingness to be friendly and helpful, and, given how overworked full-time teachers are, I really appreciate this.
“In one school, a teacher found out I had come without my wallet and couldn't buy lunch, and offered me some leftover soup. In other places, teachers lend me a mug and sometimes even a spoonful of coffee.”
She doesn’t like to be too blunt, so I’ll say it for her: it’s not enough. Called in at the last minute, without their wallets or lunch or coffee supply – well, the supply teacher could starve.
But that’s not entirely the point: they ought to be welcomed and ushered towards the cakes. Here’s a really good new year’s resolution for you: be nicer to the supply teacher.
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Thomas Blaikie was a secondary English teacher for 25 years. He is author of Blaikie’s Guide to Modern Manners (4th Estate)