The Summer holidays are finally here, and the children are off school for the next six weeks. It has been a busy few months for me with students preparing for GCSEs and SATS and I’ve also been marking exam papers. Last week I finally finished for the holidays. For the past few years the first weeks of the holidays are always notable for the state of my house. Currently it is akin to a florist’s. There are flowers everywhere. I have a utility room full of bottles of wine and prosecco and there are enough boxes of chocolates to last until Christmas 2019. This is the latest trend; thank you gifts for teachers. Yet, this new trend of rewarding me for doing my job, seems wrong to me.
About two months ago, the local shops started selling gifts and cards for teachers. I noticed that this has almost become a new commercial date in calendars now; much like Valentine’s day or Mother’s Day. Another excuse for commercialism. The range of gifts ranges from a simple frame to candles, cushions and personalised diaries, cushions, notebooks and a framed award. This new trend is not new. Many years ago, I used to work in Independent boarding schools where thank you gifts would usually mean a case of fine wine, crystal decanters or luxury perfume. I even knew a teacher who used to ‘subtly’ mention what present he wanted, to such an extent, that you would see him on the last day of term loading about thirty bottles of red wine into the boot of his car. It didn’t feel right then, and it doesn’t feel right now. Receiving gifts for doing my job just doesn’t sit comfortably with me.
I became a teacher quite by accident. I was originally going to enter a graduate training programme with a major company. I went on the initial management trainee weekend and I didn’t enjoy it. I felt embarrassed with the idea of being solely focused on myself and I certainly wasn’t confident enough at that time. So, I decided to do a teacher training certificate just to give myself time to think about what I wanted to do in the future. In those days you received a huge bursary for doing subjects that were in short supply. Modern Languages was one such subject. Thus, I trained to be a Secondary teacher of French and English.
I never expected to enjoy teaching, but I did. I found it the perfect way to use my creativity and my enthusiasm. It wasn’t long before I started working in an inner-city comprehensive school, where I really felt that I could make a difference to the lives of young people who came from deprived backgrounds. When I left the school to take up a promotion elsewhere, my students all got together to make a book where they wrote messages and thank you notes. It was beautiful, and it must have taken them a long time to do this. They came from families where there was no spare money for teacher gifts. In the 90’s it wasn’t the thing to buy a teacher gifts. But I have always kept their book and it’s in my garage even now nearly thirty years later. One night about ten years after I left, I was walking in Nottingham city centre at night having been to the theatre. A gang of men approached us and appeared to be following us. I was quite frightened until I heard someone shout my maiden name and yell,
“Miss. Don’t you remember me? I used to love your lessons. I’m now in the Police Force and it’s all because of you.”
Over the years I have taught in many different schools. The best thing about having taught for so long is that many of my former pupils have gone on to build their own lives and careers. There is nothing more rewarding then accidentally bumping into a former student who tells you how you helped to give them the confidence to pursue their studies in a subject further or you gave them the courage to strive for a career that has since rewarded them enormously. Now I work only part-time in a private education centre where I tutor students in the subjects they are struggling with. This job must be the most rewarding, as with just a little bit of guidance you really can make all the difference. I’ve one student who came to me and was unable to understand the concept of number. He’s now working a good year above his chronological age and loves showing off his ability to do complex calculations in his head. Another student has been moved up two sets for his English. I had one student who was going down the wrong path until I showed him how poetry was much like the rap music that he loved. These rewards cannot be measured but they are priceless. If you were to give me a choice between rewards such as these and a scented candle, then it’s a no-brainer really.
I’m always mindful of the advice I was given by the lead lecturer on my PGCE course at Nottingham University, who told us that as teachers, we should all remember the importance of being professionals and adhering to a moral code. Education has a moral code and in these days of continual assessment and focus on levels, it is important to remember this code. Each child is an individual and my moral duty is to find their strengths and build their confidence to enable them to become good citizens. That is my job. I’m also an examiner and although I am paid to do this, it is still my moral duty to ensure that I award the highest possible mark that I can, based upon what the candidate has written and following the guidelines of the mark scheme. Teaching is very much a vocation and there is no greater reward for a teacher than to know that they have made a difference in someone’s life. Whether that be helping them to pass their SATS or getting them into reading.
Sadly, I feel that as a society we are now geared so much to commercialism that we have forgotten the value of very simple things such as saying, ‘thank you’ and sending someone a handwritten note. I’m sure that this current trend for present buying will, like Valentine’s Day and Halloween, just keep getting bigger and bigger. But take it from one who really does know, next year a simple ‘thank you Miss’ means far more than anything and if you really must get something then a handwritten card is more than enough.
Many thanks to Christa Ackroyd, who inspired me to write this, following on from her article in the Yorkshire Post.