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Opinion: We owe teachers our thanks for the last two years whether we give them gifts or not

Whether parents buy something – or not – for their children’s teachers, Margaret Lynch says it’s important to thank them.

Margaret Lynch

I CANNOT BELIEVE it is that time of year again. Once again, December has crept in much too quickly.

I genuinely feel like we were carving pumpkins five minutes ago, and then yesterday my youngest daughter announced that it was seven sleeps to Christmas. (It’s not, by the way, she miscalculated. But the damage to my nervous system remains the same).

I am so unprepared this year. We still haven’t put the tree up. It’s the only thing I can think of to slow time.

Term time

September to December always goes too quickly. It is a blizzard of Sunday night panic, uneaten lunchboxes and ties which have slipped into the space-time continuum. It is endless hours of me standing at the bottom of the stairs shouting helpful things such as ‘Where did you see it last?’ or ‘don’t come down here until you have it’.

It is hours of searching for ballet uniforms and running spikes and arriving late to everything. At this point we are masters of screeching to a halt outside our destination, while the kids exit the car like they are storming the beaches of Normandy.

And then suddenly it is December. The Toy Show, the Elves, the packed shops, and the endless lists. Around the middle of the month then, I start to panic about the ‘Teacher Present Dilemma’. If you don’t know what this is, or you don’t struggle with it, you might be one of those people chosen by the universe who possesses an innate ability to understand what each situation expects of you. Seriously, if you are, hit me up because I have many other questions.

What is the ‘Teacher-Present Dilemma’?

The Teacher-Present Dilemma, for anyone wondering, is an attempt to strike a balance between thanking the teachers for handling your children at their worst, their best, and everything in between all year, while also not actually sending anything in, in line with the school’s request.

When my eldest daughter was in Junior Infants, we received a note home advising us not to send in presents for the teachers. Understandably, it can cause some upset to children who can’t send anything in. So, for that first year, we didn’t give anything. But on the last day of term, my daughter came home upset because she was the only one who hadn’t brought a present for her teacher. Brilliant.

Parenting in general is filled with billions of these funny little situations where everyone else seems to know the right thing to do. Think Minefield, but every square is a mine and it’s not actually a game because it all shapes this tiny human into the adult they become. No pressure.

Since then, we have made a card at the end of each term. Or most terms, because I have a terrible memory and did not turn out to be the organised parent I had envisaged. I definitely have intended to send in a card each term, if that counts. Sometimes the cards are forgotten on the kitchen table or left in the bottom of a suspiciously wet schoolbag which gets launched under the stairs for 12 weeks.

Gratitude

At other times, we lean in the opposite direction to stretch the rules and sneak in a box of chocolates. This would happen if we have had a particularly ‘eventful’ year, for example, where the teacher has had to speak to me more than a dozen times, or if the teacher is showing signs of regretting their life choices after a term with my kids.

But all the chocolates, cards and good intentions don’t really come close to saying all the things I would want to say.

I don’t know if I ever could express all the things I want to say to their teachers, especially in the form of a gift which can’t constitute matter.

I don’t know how I could pick a gift that would say: Thank you for making the kids feel safe in the middle of a pandemic. Not once have they been nervous about going to school. Thank you for constantly adapting to new challenges, for humming Happy Birthday when singing wasn’t allowed and for watching the class perform a four-hour talent show instead of going to the pantomime.

Thanks for getting a magician to perform for the class in June when school tours weren’t possible and thank you for allowing the aforementioned magician to soak your hair, in the middle of your workday, with a gigantic water pistol. My daughter still almost gets sick from laughing when she re-tells the story to everyone she has ever met.

Thank you for demonstrating unwavering patience even though I am sure you don’t feel it. Before homeschooling was a thing, I had no idea that I had to ask my youngest daughter 837 times before she would take out a book. I had no idea that I had to maintain eye contact for the entire time that I expected my kids to concentrate. I had no idea that pencil sharpening could take 11 hours each day or that bathroom breaks could be weaponised. I also had no idea that the only tool I had in my teaching toolbox was to repeat the question again, but just in a slightly louder voice.

Thank you for adjusting to an entirely new dynamic, as every child returned from lockdown at vastly different levels of ability. And for understanding that their social skills were the most affected during this time. Thanks for noticing when they are on their own in the yard, and for sending a friendly face over to play. Even if it seems like no one notices, these are the little acts of kindness that help to shape them into the adults they will become.

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As another Christmas looms on the horizon, I feel like I have barely processed 2020 and yet here we are, about to welcome 2022. We have much to be thankful for this year, and a lot of people to give thanks to. So, whether it is a soggy card that smells like stale bananas, or a nice box of chocolates, I hope the teachers know how grateful we really are.

Margaret Lynch is a busy, working mum of two, living in Kildare and wondering if Adulthood is really for her.

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Margaret Lynch

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