Seriously Kidding

Playing Santa on Teachers' Day

If you, like me, are a mum of school-going kids, you would probably have done at least one of the following in the past week: baking, buying cards and presents, or stocking up on packaging materials.

The frenzied cooking, shopping and wrapping may remind you of Christmas - and that is what Teachers' Day now feels like, given the pressure among today's parents to play Santa to anyone with a hand in moulding their children's future.

I recently ran into a friend as she was busy picking gifts for her kids' teachers. Her teenage daughter alone has 18 teachers, she said, much to my shock. I assumed she had factored in all the private tutors as well.

Still, I remained oblivious to the fuss at first. I'm ashamed to say I had never given so much as a cookie crumb to my son's teachers during his four years in kindergarten. It wasn't that they didn't deserve to be feted. All his teachers had been nothing but warm and nurturing, and my son, now in Primary 1, still speaks fondly of his pre-school days.

But this day has been tainted with some of the crass commercialism that plagues Christmas and Valentine's Day, and I was loath to play along.

So I was prepared, as usual, to sit out this year's Teachers' Day, which was celebrated last Thursday in my kids' schools and marked by a school holiday islandwide last Friday.

But there came a string of messages last Tuesday night from a WhatsApp chat group set up with three mums of my son's classmates.

It began with a picture of five wooden plaques adorned with pretty flowers finger-painted by one of the mum's kids. "My child-labour factory produced some Teachers' Day gifts just now," the accompanying message read.

As we admired the efforts, the other two mums revealed their plans to bake cookies. Uh-oh, I thought. Is it now a standard practice to give everyone something on Teachers' Day, I asked.

No, they assured me, but it would be nice to show some appreciation, especially for the deserving ones.

As a discussion ensued on who these were among our boys' teachers, it struck me that they have all made a difference in one way or another.

Ms N, the form teacher, is ever so sweet and patient. She never loses her cool and makes it a point to give a handwritten card to every boy in class ahead of his birthday, complete with a personal message and stickers.

Ms L, who teaches English, makes painstaking notes on every piece of work that the boys submit, detailing how they can do better or turning her "O"s into cute cartoon eyes when she pens "good" for commendable efforts.

Then there's Ms L, the Chinese teacher, who charms the boys not just because she is pretty, but also because she enlivens her lessons with fun quizzes and rewards of kuti kuti, colourful plastic tokens in the shape of animals and other objects.

Surely such passion and dedication deserve recognition, and I resolved to show some gratitude for a change. Besides, my son is old enough at seven to make and write his own thank-you cards.

With zilch culinary skills to speak of, I set off the next day to load up on sweet treats from Marks & Spencer - a boring idea, but I figured most people wouldn't reject decent chocolates. Then I nipped into Daiso to grab gift bags and some ribbons as a finishing touch.

That afternoon, I dug out colour paper, laid out glue, scissors and colour pencils, then set my two kids to work making DIY cards. Infected by her brother's enthusiasm, my four-year-old daughter doodled merrily as she pleased - a house for one teacher of her nursery class, flowers for another and a flurry of stars and heart shapes for the third. She then wrote her name and passed the cards to me to add a thank-you message.

My son took far longer with his, tailoring his messages and drawings to each teacher.

As the project dragged on, I decided to sound out another WhatsApp group comprising my university pals. What, if anything, are you guys doing for Teachers' Day, I asked.

One replied to say she was, at that moment, paying for greeting cards. Another sent a picture of what looked like very yummy chocolate chip muffins, and a third said she was about to start making banana muffins.

I felt better when two others in the group confessed they had forgotten about the day. No parent would be caught out on this day though. One promptly scoured her home for unused items she could recycle as gifts, while the other headed for a stationery chain after work.

"The stores are packed with parents buying gifts," she reported that night. She had wanted to get cookies from Famous Amos but was put off by the long queue. "I didn't realise it's such a big deal," she added.

Neither did I. Homemade cards were all I could afford in the past, and even those were reserved for a few of my favourite teachers. And even if my parents knew when Teachers' Day was, they played no part in the occasion.

Contrast this with the growing oneupmanship these days, when some parents reportedly lavish designer goods on teachers. There must be some truth in the rumour, for a friend said she had a letter from her son's school ahead of Teachers' Day discouraging parents from buying expensive gifts.

There may be some who hope that a luxe present would plonk their kids in the teachers' good books. But I believe most parents merely wish to show their appreciation for dedicated staff. There are also, of course, people like me who cave in to peer pressure. Who wants to be that parent whose kid is the only one to show up empty-handed?

I felt good, however, when I could slip my kids' handmade cards into the gift bags. Even if their teachers don't care for the store-bought chocolates, I hope they at least derive some pleasure from the heartfelt drawings and messages.

Our maiden effort was not in vain. My son came home last Thursday describing the various reactions of his teachers.

Mrs C, whose PE lessons he loves, was especially sweet. Not only did she thank him, but she also added: "Please thank your mother for me."

She will be on our to-give list next year for sure.

hunching@sph.com.sg

Has gift-giving on Teachers' Day gone overboard? Write to suntimes@sph.com.sg