The school year is very nearly over, so in primary school playgrounds, you'll spot a selection of mums, outsize envelope in hand, begging for money for the class present for their child's teacher.
It's a thankless task, but just one of many that class reps (officially "link between class teacher and parents", unofficially "class mug") unwittingly sign up for at the start of the school year.
"Collecting for the teacher's present is absolute murder - everyone is so sick of you by now they avoid you at all costs," sighs mum-of- two and former long-standing class rep Maggie O'Donnell. "You'd think parents would be delighted all they had to do was give you a donation, and that's the teacher's present sorted. But judging from the response you get from some mums you'd think I was asking to sleep with their husbands."
Yet a quick straw poll of teachers finds the resounding majority prefer a lump sum of department store vouchers from the whole class, rather than an assortment of unwanted photo frames, scented candles, boxes of chocolates and hand cream.
"One year I was presented with a huge and simply gorgeous bouquet of hand-tied flowers from the whole class, which I'm sure was hideously expensive," recalls teacher Rebecca Cockrell. "I could have wept, as my husband and I were going on holiday the very next day. I gave them to my thrilled next door neighbour."
Rebecca has worse to tell, in terms of some presents you just wouldn't want.
"I was once given a teapot, which was in the shape of a dustbin and had a dog peeping out from the side," she recalls. "I've also been given a necklace which had a picture of the mother's daughter in it - as if I'm going to walk around with a locket of someone else's child around my neck."
My sister Catherine, once a teacher and now a head, offers some top tips on what staff would like and what they may prefer to pass up on.
"Fashions change, but one year I received more candles than John Lewis probably sells in a year. Wine is always a good bet for the worn out teacher, but if you are giving something edible, do say so. I once un-wrapped a lovely cheese – five days after it had been given.
"Great presents have included scarves, a really tasty bottle of balsamic vinegar, a pampering day at a health spa and shop vouchers. I especially love book vouchers. The most unusual present I ever received was a goldfish in a bowl – the child in question had asked if I liked fish and I have to admit I was expecting smoked salmon, not a live pet."
She would do well to have class rep Michele Singh as her parent contact. Michele, mum to Tom and Alex, has got it all sussed now.
"I've got it down to a fine art. About three weeks before the end of term I put a letter and two large stickers in all the book bags. The letter asks for a suggested donation of £3 for the teacher and £1 for the class room assistant, and invites the children to write their name and/or include a message or picture on the sticker.
"I give them a deadline and I don't chase anyone who doesn't want to take part in the collection. I then put all the stickers I get back in a big card, buy department store vouchers with all the money and the job's done. Apparently every time my boys move up a class the teachers are hoping they will get one of them. They know they'll get a great present."
Top five presents:
1. Vouchers to spend at a fab department store.
2. Decent wine.
3. Huge bouquet of beautiful flowers (but check with office staff that the teacher in question is going to be at home for at least the next week.)
4. Hand-made card signed by all the children.
5. Voucher for a beauty treatment.
Top five presents you really shouldn't have:
1. Framed photograph of your child (however lovely he/she is).
2. The bottle of wine you won in the school fete raffle.
3. A puppy.
4. Large cuddly toy.
5. Tickets to see your child in a forthcoming Brownie production.
What do you think about giving presents to teachers, either as a class or individually?
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