Linda Colling: ‘A cuddle should be enough’

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IN my day it was unheard of giving your teacher any presents.

Now it’s ridiculous how pushy parents are raising the bar higher and higher in end-of-term gifts to teachers.

It’s high time staff put their hands up and said ‘we really don’t want presents’.

A survey of 1,000 members of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers from state and independent schools revealed how shocking is the largesse certain parents are lavishing on teachers in expensive jewellery, designer handbags and theatre tickets.

Even more shocking is that a £200 Tiffany bracelet, £500 Mulberry handbag and £1,000 worth of gift vouchers were accepted.

More thank yous handed out and taken were a £30 bottle of champagne, £80 worth of England Test Match tickets and, incredibly, even a foreign holiday was offered but not accepted.

Time it was all stopped. Dr Mary Bousted, ATL’s general secretary thinks so too, with the buying of costly presents “more the norm than the exception.”

The union debated a motion last year calling for an end to the culture of competitive present-giving, but nothing has changed.

This summer staff will start their summer holidays weighed down with gifts that have been showered on them.

Plenty say a little card, or even better a homemade one, would mean more to them than all this extravagant giving. So tell them so.

How much Sunderland mothers are going to fork out I found out the other day.

Predictably, so many felt so under pressure that they were being compromised into giving something.

Why? Because time and again I was told that they didn’t want their little ones to be left out, and have other kids take the mickey out of them if they haven’t got anything to give.

But mother-of-two Rachael Wright, 22, of Pennywell, a community care worker, had no reservations about splashing £20 twice over on flowers for her three-year-old daughter Ellie’s nursery teacher, and her childminder who looks after 17-month-old Joseph and Ellie. She does the same in gifts at Christmas and Easter because she says “I like them.”

But Tracey Texeira, 31, of The Broadway, with an eight-year-old son Jay and daughter Ava, nearly two, admitted: “You feel under pressure. I’ll spend about £6 or £7 on a bottle of wine. It’s the pressure that’s put on you.”

Jan Charlton, from Tunstall, was another mother feeling the pressure. She is reckoning on spending a fiver: “I think it’s nice for a card, but there’s so much competition going on out there.”

So many, I sensed, wished they were out of the whole sad, sorry, school saga.

Single mother of eight, Michelle Jolliffe, of Thorney Close, has six children at school and has to watch the pennies. Her limit is £3. She will be spending that twice on flowers for two teachers who have really helped her children.

As for over-the-top presents she was adamant: “Even if I was rich I wouldn’t do it. You don’t see me going out and buying myself a designer handbag for being a mam. A small thing is enough for appreciation.”

Leanne Thompson, 31, a mother-of-three from Pennywell, said how much she would be spending on 10-year-old son Patrick’s teacher depends on “how much he likes his teacher. It really boils down to that.” And how much does he? A fiver’s worth.

And Rachel Kelly, 26, of Easington, mother to eleven-week-old twins Eve and Erin, may well change her tune when she gets caught up in her girls’ nursery and schooldays. She told me: “I don’t think I would buy presents.”

So what a joy it was to meet Melissa O’Brien, 27, of Havelock. The only mother who refuses to be compromised.

With son Liam, three, at nursery, and Megan, 21 months, she was the only one to say she would be buying nothing for any teacher.

She said: “It’s all very commercialised in the shops. You feel obliged that you have to do it, but it should be a choice thing. I wish that teachers would feel valued and tell you ‘don’t do it.’ I think the pleasure comes from doing their job with the children. A simple cuddle and a ‘goodbye, see you next year’ is enough.”

My sentiments precisely.