Last month, the end of the school year, was surely an expensive one for cash-strapped teachers. It's the same every year. A bit of forward financial planning is always necessary: the car needs a service in late August, the bill for the children's music lessons is about to land and then there is the new school uniform to buy. You've been saving for months for a holiday, and even though everyone outside education thinks you will be sitting on a beach in Barbados for six weeks, the reality is a fortnight in a rain-sodden caravan in Dunoon.
Then, to top things off, there is the long goodbye that has to be said to colleagues who are tiring or retiring. This year I had to say farewell to two of my closest teaching friends. Sad as it was to see them go, it was also flipping expensive. Paying into the school staff fund wasn't enough: colleagues were passing around copious brown envelopes into which you were expected to deposit "something big that folds". I wanted to stick in my stapler. Once, on an earlier occasion, I was given a dressing-down by a teaching assistant because, after putting a pound;5 note in, I delved into the envelope to retrieve some change - I figured that the person was worth only pound;3 and pound;2 would pay for my lunch.
Once the cash is collected, the discussions start about what to buy. Maybe I'm old-fashioned but I just don't like vouchers. It's as if we are saying, "We collected this amount for you but couldn't be bothered to think of what you might actually like. Go and buy something yourself, it saves us the hassle."
In our school we have also developed the habit of going out for a meal to mark someone's departure. So, not only do you have to fork out for a present and write a personal yet vague comment on a card but you also have to spend three hours with people for whom a 20-minute lunch break is more than enough time. The meal is often nice and the craic (as we say in Northern Ireland) mighty, but I generally spend most of the meal working out that it is going to cost me 40 quid. I could take the whole family out for the same price. Then I start thinking, "I hope this person realises the sacrifice I am making for them."
The etiquette of saying goodbye to colleagues seems to become more complex each year. Leaver's meal, leaver's lunch, leaver's break (where a big cake saying "You're leaving" is bought and consumed). Then there is the final act of the year. The bell goes, the students clear out of school for the last time and all the staff gather for the final goodbye, some crying, some laughing, some wanting to make speeches, others to scarper. This is what worries me the most. When I eventually leave, what will I say and how will I say it? I hope I don't just list all the people who have wronged me and "call them out".