Should you give teachers gifts?

This question might also take the form:

Q. Why give someone a gift for doing their job when they’re already being paid?

A.  Because giving a gift shouldn’t be an exchange! It shouldn’t go: you do something for me, I’ll give you a gift. That’s a transaction. A gift should exist outside a transaction.  

Let me tell you a story, specific to the teaching profession. When I was at primary school, a boy called Lee was dared to eat a pencil and he accepted the challenge. He also ate stinging nettles, banana skins and paper, but the pencil was the real coup de théâtre.

And who had to fish the pencil shards out of Lee’s mouth? A teacher. And who had to intervene when other children offered Lee bits of tree bark to eat? A teacher. And who sat with Lee next to them in the dining hall to ensure he actually ate his (far less interesting) school meal? Yup, a teacher. And that was just one week. 

They’re the people your kids spend most of their day with. They are the only other people in the world who will be as interested in your child’s development as you. A good teacher will spot and encourage that hidden talent that you might overlook, they have to be on the lookout for signs that things might not be alright in your home.

Their job doesn’t stop when the kids leave at the last school bell. They have to mark and prepare lessons and work out how to manage twenty individuals with their own unique needs.  

I’m not sure it’s a cost-effective thing idea to gift every teacher in your child’s life a gift, but if there’s one who has gone further than they needed to help your child, give thanks.

What should you give?

You can’t go wrong with a thank you note.

 My mum cherishes everything that her pupils give her: lollypop sticks covered in glitter, pebbles. But that’s my mum. At the other end of the spectrum, my friend who works at an international school in north London was given a Longchamp bag and vouchers for spa treatments.

Seneca, my spiritual gift-giving guide relates the following story which might help or it might not:

Alexander, who was of unsound mind, and always full of magnificent ideas, presented somebody with a city. When the man to whom he gave it had reflected upon the scope of his own powers, he wished to avoid the jealousy which so great a present would excite, saying that the gift did not suit a man of his position. “I do not ask,” replied Alexander, “what is becoming for you to receive, but what is becoming for me to give.” This seems a spirited and kingly speech, yet really it is a most foolish one. Nothing is by itself a becoming gift for any one: all depends upon who gives it, to whom he gives it, when, for what reason, where, and so forth, without which details it is impossible to argue about it.

Never give a gift again: a how-to by Derrida

Some people believe that the best form of gift-giving is to give and expect nothing in return.

This does sound noble. 

The philosopher Jacques Derrida argued that in order for a gift to truly be a gift, there can be no benefit to the giver.

There can be zero benefit to the giver.

None at all.

The receiver can’t say thank you or even acknowledge that a gift has been given. The giver can’t feel a warm feeling inside, let alone consciously give a gift

So if I buy a Rolex, leave it on a park bench and think that it’ll make someone’s day to have it, that’s not a gift. But if I walk down the street in my gym clothes and someone sees me and thinks ‘Wow, I feel inspired me to go to the gym’ That's a gift.

If I say to myself ‘I must remember that Bond Street tube station is closed’ and someone randomly overhears me and thinks ‘Thank goodness I know that golden nugget of information – I can find an alternative route’ then that's a gift.

There are obvious wins with Derrida’s theory and I will name three.

WIN ONE

If you don’t know when you’re giving a gift, you could, theoretically, be giving gifts all the time without knowing it which is a lovely thought.  Maybe the universe will reward you for this. 

WIN TWO

It’s a very cost-effective theory. You can’t buy anything intended it to be a gift.

WIN THREE

It encourages the giver to not be materialistic or conceited.

There are also some very obvious problems:

FAIL ONE

If you want to give a gift to a specific person, you can’t.

FAIL TWO

You might give undeserving people gifts. 

FAIL THREE

You can't enjoy the feeling of giving.

FAIL FOUR

You’d be a pariah at birthday and Christmas parties.

Your dad: What are you giving mum for her birthday?
You: I am consciously giving her nothing. I might be giving her something unconsciously. I’ll never know.

Gift giving ideas inspired by Derrida:

  • Be kind
  • Make good choices

But don’t think about it.

Initial thoughts: monogram gifts

I once believed monograms were for the bold. I believed they were for people who wanted to shout at the world:  ‘Behold! This is my shirt! It is nice! It is mine! I didn’t borrow it!’ all without moving their lips.

You might argue that because monograms date back to antiquity that this somehow legitimises their use. But let’s call a spade a spade: sticking your initials on an item can come across as teensy bit obnoxious/tacky/kitsch.

After all, monograms are hardly necessary. Quelle surprise! The napkin on your dining room table, in your dining room, in your house is yours!

However, the other part of me feels like although embossing initials onto your possessions is probably not necessary, it is cool. It’s nice to have something which is uniquely yours and a monogram, like a graffiti tag, is a confident statement.

It’s also a deterrent for would-be thieves because the probability that the thief who covets your shirt also has the same initials and build as you would be pretty low (I'm guessing).

It should go without saying - I'm going to say it anyway - that there is a right way to do monograms. Be subtle if you're wearing a monogram on clothing or accessories. Consider a single initial rather than all of your initials.  In regard to décor, consider limiting yourself to monogramming one item in a room. Go for small quirky addition rather than a stockroom full of branded items.

Here are my top monogram gifts.

Arthur Sleep 

JOHNSONS OF ELGIN

I bought the scarf below for my husband's birthday. I went for grey stitching on grey cashmere to keep things low-key as he tends to err on the side of caution sartorially-speaking. I can confirm that the quality, service and delivery were all excellent. There are 14 colour options in the plain cashmere scarf range. His grandfather's key-ring also appears in the picture. It was a gift. On the back there is a mysterious engraving which reads 'Third time lucky?'

THE LETTEROOM

It's pretty hard to find a candle made without paraffin with an initial on it but Letteroom ticket both boxes. These would make a nice addition to the bathroom in new home. I like the idea of a mantle piece with candles featuring the initials of each family member. 

OLIVIA VON HALLE

Last night, I wore my husband's Long Johns and a sports bra to bed. If I had my life in better order, I'd own a monogrammed silk pyjamas (matching top and bottoms) that I'd slip into every night, preferably by Olivia Von Halle. I'd also like to rest my head on a silk pillow because apparently it's better for your skin (anyone tried that?) 

NOBLE MACMILLAN

Simple and lovely, a monogrammed card holder from Noble Macmillan would make a sweet gift for a friend, family member or colleague.

SELETTI NEON 

I feel like it was Tracey Emin and her 'I Promise to Love You' collection that transformed neon from a medium typically associated with vice to a medium which can convey messages of value. An original neon installation by Emin is valued at between £38,000 and £51,000. An initial letter by Seletti costs around £27. The letter below is actually on sale for £17. 

MAISON GOYARD

As I was waiting for the tube to go to work, I stood next to a woman with a bag that I thought said ‘COTURD’ in really small lettering. On closer inspection, I discovered that it said ‘GOYARD’. Anyway, the bag had the woman’s painted initials on it which looked pretty. As an everyday bag, I probably wouldn’t select it because it doesn’t have zip, but it would make a great beach bag or bag to carry files in. You can’t buy Maison Goyard online. The only UK store can be found at 116 Mount Street, Mayfair London W1K 3NH. 

Can you recommend any other initial/monogramming services? Comment below! And visit my pinterest board!

The right time to give baby gifts

I’m at that stage in life where my contemporaries are having babies. In fact, it seems like every female I know went to a secret meeting and said: ‘Let’s all have babies immediately’ and everyone agreed.

I’ve said before that I think babies are easy people to buy for. But I’m trying to solve the problem of when to celebrate new life with a gift.

My friend Rochelle is Jewish. She believes it is a bad idea to give gifts before the baby has arrived safely. I understand her logic. Not counting your chickens before they hatch is sensible but it does mean that the excitement is tempered for nine months. 

In England, baby showers aren’t the norm. If they were then we’d have a definite date to give gifts and we’d get the mother’s consent to be open and joyous about the occasion. Instead, we’re left to flounder about, fretting about what to do and when it’s OK to do it. 

As with all gift-giving riddles, I think it’s best to be open but to ‘read’ the parents and let their behaviour guide you. Here's my play-it-safe guide:

  • Announcement - send them a card
  • First visit to pregnant mother: something small for the her. It would then be an opportune time to ask the parents what they’d appreciate for the baby. 
  • Baby arrives: go ahead and give a gift for the baby during your first visit. 

By the way. I bought those cute Peter Rabbit pj's from M&S. I bought these for myself when I catch up with my contemporaries and have a little baby.

Check out my baby ideas pinterest board