BBC Radio Kent interview on giving presents to teachers (17 July 2017)

BBC Radio Kent interview on giving presents to teachers (17 July 2017)

I am interviewed by Julia George on BBC Radio Kent about the competitive nature of giving presents to teachers at the end of the school year. 

A transcript of the interview is below.

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JG: Should you buy your child’s teacher a gift? Should you go it alone? How much money should you spend? Should  you chip in with other parents? What did you decide to do this year? … What do teachers really appreciate? Let’s ask one… Do you remember gifts over the years, some of the more weird and wonderful ones?

SC: Yes, I’ve had a number of gifts from children and some of the most precious ones are little messages where children say, “the best teacher in the world” or, “you changed my life”, or something like that. That has often been the [best ones]. I’ve had some bazaar ones like clothing. 

JG: Really? 

SC: Yes, you know, jumpers and various things. 

JG: Ok. 

SC: It’s odd, maybe they didn’t think I was dressed very well. I don’t know.

JG: I was just about to say, ‘was there some sort of question mark over your dress code at school or out of school’. 

SC: I don’t know. 

JG: Ok, that is curious, ’cause it’s quite a personal thing to buy someone, clothing, isn’t it? 

SC: Yes, so I’ve had bottles of wine. Sometimes, obviously, these things are coming from parents. So, they are often individual gifts. But, if it’s a basket, then often it’s something the class has thought about. I think the point about this is that Primary School children often make a very special relationship with their teacher. Obviously, the teacher is teaching them for the whole year. It’s very different in Secondary School where, perhaps, you see children once or twice a week. So, it is a different relationship.

JG: Have you taught in both?

SC: Yes, I have taught in both contexts. Briefly in Primary School context, but not extensively. I was teaching mainly in Secondary, but I have taught Primary as well. 

JG: Why do you suppose there is that connection? Is it because a child is, in Primary School, generally taught by one teacher all day, every day? Is that why that relationship is different? 

SC: Yes, and also the children are younger. There is a real sense in which the teacher is (as they say in Latin), ‘in loco parentis’, you know, taking the place of the parent. They usually make a special bond with that teacher.

JG: Do you think, therefore, it’s always appropriate to give a present or is it more appropriate for the child to be encouraged to write a card to say something that they, hopefully, something positive? You know, I know not every child loves every teacher. 

SC: I don’t think we should regulate these things. For me, it’s a human response. I think the intent to, kind of, control things, in a way takes the power of it away. I would hate the idea that I was told what Christmas gifts I should give somebody and I think, in the end we have to leave it to the common sense of the children. I mean, I always find that children have common sense, actually, and also, parents who want to give gifts. I think it’s lovely for people to have the free volition to respond.

JG: Do you think that it puts some people in an awkward position? I mean, when you talk about these £25, and if you are a family that was struggling, I guess you write a card or you make something in that situation don’t you, if you still want to do something?  

SC: I don’t think we should tell people to do anything at all. I don’t think there should be any recommendations. If people don’t have anything to give, then the smallest thing that they do, a card [is appreciated]. I mean, I’ve often just had cards, and I’m very appreciative of that. It makes no difference to the teacher, I don’t think. Any teacher of good standing and being sensible about it, would not expect anything. I mean, I never expected things, but these things happen. You just show your appreciation.

JG: A question about money and schools that is a much more serious political question, but I’m curious, while we are talking about it. There was a big rally in London yesterday about funding. I wonder whether this is the big issue, this is the issue of parents not just buying presents, but parents being asked to contribute to financially running the school. What does that tell us about education in this country? 

SC: Well, personally, I don’t think parents should be asked for help. I mean, there are PTA’s and Parent-Teacher Associations that obviously raise money for schools and for extra things. I think that is a very different thing than parents actually being taxed for money, I mean sending letters out and asking parents to fund [things]. I’m not really in favour of that, I think it should come from Central Government. 

JG: But, if it isn’t? And, I guess that’s the point. I mean, I’m hearing Head Teachers now saying, “we can’t really do everything that we used to do, could you help”? Do you think they should that just ‘put up and shut up’ with the budgets they’ve got? Can you understand or do you thoroughly disagree? 

SC: I can understand, and it’s extremely difficult. You know, I am sympathetic. We are running, after seven years of austerity, and it is extremely difficult and there are also funding formulas which are looked at and, you know, obviously there are many arguments around whether some schools should get more than others, and pupil premium. I mean, there are many, many discussions about this. Effectively I think the biggest issue, of course, is are we willing to find more tax to pay for better public services, and of course this is a perennial issue that continues to rumble on. Education can always use more money. It’s a little bit like all health, and all services, you can always use more money. Exactly how you cut up the pie is extremely difficult. Of course, when the country faces big deficit as well, there are issues around how you spend money and whether you should have cuts, and all these kind of things. It is extremely hard in the times that we are in at the moment, I think. It is extremely difficult. I’m not trying to minimise the problem. I think none of us fully know what the answer is, except in the end if you are going to give more money from one thing, you have to take it from somewhere else. 

JG: Dr Stephen Curran, thank you for taking the political question, as well as the personal. Really nice to talk to you this morning. 

In another interview specifically related to stress levels amongst teachers, I stated that ‘it’s always good when people are rewarded or appreciated’.

A transcript of the interview is below.


Interviewer: Can presents to teachers help to reduce stress?

SC: Well, I think it’s always good when people are rewarded or appreciated. Children used to give me presents. That wasn’t to do with stress, they were grateful for what I was doing. I wouldn’t want to say that teachers are any more stressed than many other people in our society. Maybe we should be giving presents to lots of people.