"For the first time in 11 years, I'm not buying a Christmas gift for my child's teacher."

My youngest son finishes Year Five in a few weeks. As a family with three kids, we’ve notched up 11 consecutive years at our local primary school and every year, late November-ish, I’ve taken the kids who haven’t made it to high school yet to the shops to buy their teacher a Christmas present.

I’ve never missed a year. I’ve never missed a teacher (that’s 19 teachers so far). But this year, I don’t want to buy my son’s teacher a present. I don’t want to say, “Thanks for everything and here is a small gift just to show you how much I have appreciated your hard work, commitment and, no doubt, patience”.

Because my son has been the opposite of the teacher’s pet. I don’t know what that name is, other than the teacher’s victim. For months I dismissed him when he would come home from school and tell me how he was being “picked on” by the teacher. At first I told him, “She can’t be that bad.”

Then his friends started telling stories of outbursts and anger in the classroom from their teacher. Kids called stupid. Kids getting spit on their face from the screaming. Kids going to school tiptoeing until they understood what mood she was in today. Kids being yelled at until they cried – and then they would be allowed to sit down.

Does every teacher deserve a Christmas present? Image via iStock

Every day was a ticking mood time bomb.

I thought they must be exaggerating. I thought a teacher can't be behaving like that.

I told the boys I was driving to sports training, "Imagine how hard it would be to keep 28 students on track, focused, learning." I gave them "talks" on being respectful, listening, following instructions.


Then the recounting of what was happening in class faded a little and I thought maybe everything was fine.

In his five years at school my son has never been described by other teachers as "the naughty boy" or a boy who needs to "calm down". Even though he has a wide circle of friends, he's quiet and likes to talk and think about the world.

By the last third of the year, the stories dropped in frequency and they were replaced by watery eyes at bedtime.

"Do I have to go to school tomorrow? Please, I don't want to."

He would beg to stay home, obviously upset, trying not to cry. A 10-year-old boy who had never once asked to stay home from school suddenly filled with dread about the next day.

I didn't know how to handle these nights because he'd never been like this before. I never let him take a day off from school. My rationale was you can't run away from your problems. I wondered how bad does it have to be before you contact the school. Is this the line? What evidence do I have? In my 14 years I had never contacted the school to complain about a teacher.

Listen: The presents teachers always receive from their students. (Post continues after audio.)

Then a few weeks ago, a parent from the class came up to me at a school event. She told me she was dropping something off at school the week before and had seen my son being screamed at. She told me she was shocked.

"I hear it happens a lot to him."

I went cold. She has a daughter in the same class.

Another parent had heard the same thing from their child and told me that night too.

I've talked to the teacher (she denied it) and to the school now. I'm not the only person who has "concerns" over this teacher, but beyond that there seemed little they could do.

My son goes off each morning bracing himself. He's counting down the days. He tries to not get anything wrong, he tries to make himself a small target.

Some days it works. Some days it doesn't.

Either way, I don't feel like taking him to the shops this year and buying his teacher a present to thank her.

For the first time in 11 years, buying a present for my child's teacher doesn't feel right. In fact, it feels like a betrayal of my son.