BEIRUT: If the turnout at Wednesday’s protest in Beirut is anything to go by, teachers in Lebanon feel decidedly underappreciated these days, but for one day in March very few of these pedagogues will remain unacknowledged.
March 9, Teachers’ Day, is a public holiday for schools in Lebanon – although as it falls on a Saturday this year Friday, March 8 will be a day off instead. It is also an occasion on which children and their parents say thank you to educators across the country. The eve of the holiday sees youngsters heading to school laden down with gifts, while older kids plan in-class performances and surprises for their teachers.
Although she has previously taught grades 4, 5 and 6, Aline Khattar now teaches English to grades 11 and 12. “For me,” she says, “Teachers’ Day is really positive and rewarding.”
“Teaching involves so much work,” she adds, noting the unseen effort that goes into preparing lessons.
But for many parents the word most readily associated with the occasion is “stressful.”
Marianne Tawk is both a teacher and a mother, the latter role having made her, she says, more committed to the former. Nonetheless, Tawk says that as a parent Teachers’ Day is a source of worry.
When a family has multiple children, and each has three to four teachers, shopping for Teachers’ Day can become akin to Christmas shopping.
“It can be very stressful to get gifts for about 16 teachers,” Tawk says. “I want to get something nice, and it’s not always easy.”
Meanwhile, Rana (not her real name), who has two sons, says, “When you have two, three or four children and each has four, five or six teachers, that’s a lot of presents.”
Rana estimates that parents usually spend between $15 and $25 per teacher. Costs for some can therefore quickly run onto the hundreds.
Many parents will also take the opportunity to acknowledge the nonteaching staff, and will buy small presents for bus drivers, classroom assistances and cleaning staff too, adding to the overall expense of the holiday.
“You cannot say it [Teachers’ Day] is enjoyable,” Marie (also not her real name), another mother of two, said. “It’s an obligation for parents.”
Among typical gifts Tawk lists perfume, candles, scarves and makeup, but she adds that this year the economic crisis has put extra pressure on parents, restricting their ability to buy gifts for all their children’s teachers.
Most of the teachers and parents The Daily Star spoke to listed gifts of this ilk – mugs, jewelry, blouses, etc. – and said that past Grade 5 the practice of gift giving rarely continues, with students instead perhaps clubbing together for a cake or some flowers.
Some schools do endeavor to impose a no gifts rule, while at others gifts are far more extravagant.
Phones and iPods are among the items one staff member at a top Beirut private school says teachers receive, although he adds: “Frankly, I feel a bit uncomfortable receiving a ‘gift’ from parents, particularly when they pay such high fees anyway and also because it [teaching] is simply my job after all.”
At schools where parents pay high tuition fees there may be an inclination to “show off,” Tawk says, assuring that this does not happen in more “normal” private schools.
However, even with just modest gifts being given at her school, Tawk says she would “prefer if the school said no gifts for teachers.”
But Marie says that even where such rules are imposed, some still send gifts, which in turn reapplies the pressure on parents to mark the day with a present.
“Parents don’t want their child to be the only one that didn’t bring something,” she says.
Marie also notes that the culture of gift giving can lead of competition between students. Moreover, she says that sometimes parents believe that by giving a bigger, more expensive gift they are ensuring their son or daughter receives better grades and more attention in class.
“It works with some teachers,” Marie says.
For others, too opulent a gift can be unsettling. Khattar once received a gold cross inlaid with a diamond from a student, but says it was a gift she simply could not accept.
“It was like a bribe,” she says, explaining that she just did not feel comfortable keeping it.
Khattar, who has a child in Kindergarten 2, herself does not feel any stress when it comes to Teachers’ Day: “I send gifts, but not very expensive ones – maybe a frame, a mug or some makeup.”
She does, however, recognize that some parents do feel under pressure to come up with great gifts and fear that teachers will favor students who give expensive presents.
Yet, one of the gifts Khattar most appreciated receiving cost her students practically nothing. Last year in one of the English teacher’s classes all of the students wrote poems and assembled them in a book for her.
“The thing parents don’t know is that teachers don’t really care [about the gifts], all teachers want is a simple thank you,” she says.