IT'S CHRISTMAS, and some pupils want to give their favourite teachers a whale of a time. Shelley Upton, at Maiden Erlegh school in Reading, was given one - literally - by her sixth form group.
Whales cannot be wrapped in shiny red-and-green paper and left on a teacher's desk. Instead Havannah, a 32-year old orca whale with a notch in her dorsal fin, is enjoying her Christmas swimming off Alaska. The Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society provides regular updates on her whereabouts - as well as that of her sister Holly and niece Surf.
Ms Upton, 40, said the gift was fantastic and - in somewhat of an understatement - that she had never received such a present before. "It's usually chocolates and bubble bath," she said. "We always get fat and happy on our Christmas presents."
At Castlebrae high school in Edinburgh, one of Neil McLean's pupils wanted him to have a good time too: his present was a photo of the pupil's mum - in a bikini.
Similarly, the mother of a pupil in Stephen Cabrera's class at Rydens school in Surrey gave him a tie with a cartoon Elvis on it, bearing the legend, "Hunka hunka burnin' love".
Said Mr Cabrera: "It scared me!"
Shaun MacNeill, 60, from Fleetwood sports college, Lancashire, was offered two weeks of "pleasuring" by a parent. "It's not quite as naughty as it sounds," he said. It actually meant a fortnight's cod-trawler "pleasure cruise". "And it's not sitting on a deck chair in the sun," said Mr MacNeill. "I would have been on deck hauling in the fish."
Instead, he settled for regular gifts of cod from local families.
Chocolate or alcohol are the most common presents, but, for Scott Anderson, last year's came with a twist. When the school office phoned to say a parent had dropped something off, he said he would sent across a couple of willing volunteers to collect it.
"No, I don't think that's a good idea," the office responded sternly.
When he later collected it himself, he found a tray of lager. The attached card read: "After spending so much time in class with my daughter, you'll need these. Have a happy Christmas!"
Jilly Cooper, the author whose latest novel, Wicked, is set in two English schools, offered a somewhat different idea for a present: nominating favourite teachers for a Teaching Award is her suggestion.
Cooper is a supporter of the annual awards, and Wicked's heroine receives one, as did most of the real-life teachers mentioned in this article.
"I've been lucky enough to attend the national ceremony four years'
running," Ms Cooper said. "It's a real box of tissues job - I've been in floods of tears one minute and roared with laughter the next, the way teachers inspire and set light to children's imaginations."
TACKY, CHINTZY, CHEESY: SIR'S CHRISTMAS GIFTS
Forget mistletoe and wine: for teachers, Christmas is the season of scented candles and chintzy teapots.
A TES poll of 1,000 teachers last year revealed that millions of pounds were being wasted on tacky gifts, including ornaments, picture frames, vases and candles.
The yearly deluge prompted Pete, a primary school teacher in Birmingham, to set up the website: Cheesy Gifts for Teachers.
A splendid array of embossed clocks, cheap cosmetics, and lavishly decorated picture frames are displayed on the site, alongside suitable cutting commentary.
"This perfectly proportioned figure is made from wafer-thin porcelain and needs to be handled extremely carefully to avoid micro-fractures," he writes of a particularly sinister-looking toilet roll man.
Snide it may be, but you've got to have something to laugh about, according to Pete.
Even if it is your figure - which after the "piles and piles" of chocolate some teachers say lands on their desks come yuletide is likely to be more Father Christmas than party queen.
But it's not all bad news. Hand-made gifts and spirits are among the more popular gifts received by burned-out staff.
However, secondary school language teachers are the most likely to receive nothing.