Gifts for teacher: What Miss and Sir want - and what they really don't...

By Lauren Libbert

It’s mid-July, which can only mean one thing; the hounding for the teachers’ end of year collection has begun.

What starts with a smile and a suggestion in the playground soon turns into a full-on assault with a flurry of whatsapp messages, emails and eventually – if you fail to respond - a face-to-face confrontation with an earnest parent wielding a clipboard.

The suggested donation for this year’s collection at my son’s school is £10, which makes me glad, for the first time, I don’t have more than two children.

Incredibly, however, we seem to be on the lower end of the gift-giving pay scale with 10 per cent of parents in a recent Mumsnet poll admitting they splash out £25 or more on their end of year present and 15 per cent more than happy to spend up to £20.

Present giving has become yet another area of schools where competition and one-upmanship is rife

While it would be nice to think this sudden hike in generosity is all about appreciation for the staff, there is something less altruistic at play, with eight per cent of parents in the same poll admitting they buy gifts because everyone is doing it and they don’t want to look mean and under half the parents saying they feel pressurised to do so.

Whole supermarket shelves are devoted to the teacher gifting season with cards, badges and ‘Thanks Sir/Miss ’branded chocolate boxes. On-line there are Pinterest boards devoted to the best 25+ ideas for presents, crafting sites for homemade inspiration and even educational charity gifting ideas too.

Present giving, it seems, has become yet another area of schools where competition and one-upmanship is rife.

I know of mums who wouldn’t dare contribute to a boring class collection but instead have hand embroidered a patchwork quilt inspired by their children’s drawings, crafted pen tidies from jam jars using glass paint and stayed up all night making dozens of cupcakes for their children’s teachers at three different schools.

One woman I know bought her daughter’s teacher a goat for a village in Africa via Unicef and there’s currently a thread on Mumsnet started by a mum who couldn’t resist buying a giant kestrel ornament as an end of year present for a teacher who apparently loves spending time in her garden.

‘Whether it’s about giving a certain amount of money to a class collection or going overboard on a gift, parents have found another area to put pressure on each other and compete,’ says psychologist Donna Dawson. ‘It’s a very subtle form of social putdown and people need to be braver and not let other parents bully them. Either hijack the collection early and set your own – smaller – amount or go off piste and do your own thing and try not to care.’

The truth is, when you speak to teachers, the presents they value and remember most dearly are the simple ones from their pupils; handwritten cards with thoughtful words, a shoebox covered in a child’s drawings to be used as a memory box, a world map (for a geography teacher) annotated with thank you notes from the whole class.

Please, no photos of your child in a special frame. We love them, but don’t want their smiling faces on our bedside tables

‘But please, no photos of your child in a special frame,’ one teacher friend told me. ‘We love your children but don’t necessarily want their smiling faces on our bedside tables.’

Also on the list of worst presents to receive are candles, cheap shower gels and hand creams, wonky craft gifts made at the parents’ behest with no real purpose and THANK YOU TEACHER mugs.

But there is one gift that receives a chorus of approval from all teachers: booze.

Wine, vodka, whiskey; they simply can’t get enough.

Last year, I was so grateful to the teacher for handling my older son’s tendency to scrap instead of sit with patience and restraint, I splashed out on a £20 bottle of wine and wrote an essay of guilt-ridden thanks (from me) in his card.

The wine was received with a huge beam; not a word said about the card.

So this year I decided not to be ruled by guilt or a pushy class representative. My plan was to go it alone and buy each of my sons’ teachers a reasonably priced box of chocolates.

But then my 10 year-old put a spanner in the works last night by sitting at the kitchen table and welling up when talking about his teacher.

He said Mr Green had made him want to work harder, behave better and had always believed in him. ‘Even when I was getting detentions at the beginning of the year,’ he said. ‘He never gave up on me and said he knew I could do better.’

I was stumped.

A good teacher is priceless. You remember them for life. Mrs Jenkins, my English teacher at my all-girls secondary school, is the reason I’m a journalist. She instilled in me a love of English and books and the importance of telling a good story.

A box of chocolates for all that? I’ve cleared the day tomorrow for a shopping trip. Only the best, most original present will do.

Top five teachers’ presents | (according to teachers)

  1. Alcohol
  2. Shopping vouchers
  3. Biscuits, chocolate or a fruit basket for the staff room given in the last week of term
  4. Cards (handwritten from the children)
  5. Flowers, chocolate or a voucher for a massage.