Teacher gifts - an etiquette minefield

Tuesday 7th November, 2023

We are rapidly approaching the Christmas holidays. Yes, I know it's only Autumn. But do you really want another last-minute thing to worry about? Let's just get this sorted out now and the whole faff over and done with. Please don't take this as a scrouge-esque begrudgement of my children's educators. It's nice to give them something to say "Thank you for making sure my child can read and that" at Christmas and the end of the school year.

Plus, with the amount of time they spend with your offspring, it's probably fair to give them a present. Considering the pressure and stress of teaching, gin is the obvious solution. However, given the no-doubt endemic quantities of booze in the average UK staffroom, it might be best to go for something else.

Other parents are a minefield to navigate. There will always be one, very overly keen parent (possibly the progenitor of that annoying little kid who pulls people's hair) who will suggest in the parents WhatsApp group that a spa weekend or some other eye-watering extravagant gift would be great way to say thank you for all they've done, and that it "only" works out to £50 a head for your share. Also, they have already paid for it, so it would be great if you could PayPal the money by the end of the week.

This is when you play your trump card "That sounds great, I'm sure Mrs Trunkle would love that." Then, like columbo, you remember one last thing "Except (insert name of your child) already chose her out a present a couple of weeks ago." BAM. No social obligation to fork out fifty quid, and you look like the adult who has their life together. Checkmate.

Here are some ideas, but first there are just a few things to bear in mind.

Anything embarrassingly expensive. This should go without saying, but it is not ok to give a teacher a magnum of champagne, or anything with a diamond in it. Ok, maybe a diamond drill set- but that's only if they teach DT. It doesn't make you look generous, it just makes everyone else (including the teacher) feel awkward.

Nothing fragile. Have you seen how kids carry their bags? The average primary school backpack takes more knocks than Tyson Fury. Unless you're handing it over to the teacher yourself, don't pick anything easily breakable like a vase or a crystal ornament. It's an accident waiting to happen.

For the love of god, nothing religious. This really should go without saying, but nothing that has any kind of religious connotation. Even if you're absolutely sure the teacher is a practicing whatever, or your kids go to a Catholic school, no teacher needs a ceramic Virgin Mary or a flip-book depicting the stations of the cross. Pick something else.

Don't play favourites. In this day and age of job sharing and hot-desking, your child may very well have more than one teacher. Mrs Greyson Monday, Thursday, and Mr Jones Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday. Except on the first week of the spring half term where everything is reversed. No, you can't get Mr Jones a much nicer present, even if he is a better teacher. Yes, you do need to get something for both of them. It doesn't have to be the exact same thing, but if you're getting one a bottle of wine, make sure you're not giving the other one paint thinner.

A thoughtful gift is something that you think a teacher will like or use. Stationary is a safe bet, if a bit boring. Mugs, ditto you know they will be used- but make an effort to find one relevant to their subject or class. Trading standards are cracking down on false claims, and "BEST TEACHER EVER" is just asking for trouble.

Everyone likes a scented candle. Yankee, or one of the variations on the style of nice-smelling-thing-in-a-jar will go down well. The only thing is to remember to vary it a little. Don't give the same scent two terms in a row.

Chocolate is another safe bet. Just as a tip, go for something grown-up rather than a tub of celebrations as a class spotting such a thing may demand a tithe.

All teachers say that the handmade things kids give them are the most treasured and meaningful. But please, please be aware of your own child's aptitude before you spend a fraught Saturday trying to get them to make something insta-worth from a craft kit, only to end up with a scribble on a piece of paper which they assure you is Mrs Smith being shot by The Mandalorian.

Or, throwing it out there- £10 Amazon vouchers?

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