After studying at university for four years, at the beginning of this year I landed my first full time job as a teacher.
This year has been a massive learning curve, stepping into full time work for the first time. I’ve been lucky that I’m working with a really supportive group of teachers who have guided me and taught a newbie like me the ropes.
We all work on Stage One and have grown close throughout the year. But over the last few months, a trend has been developing between my colleagues and I, that as a first year teacher on a relatively smaller salary, is slowly but surely sending me broke.
It all started when Jane* fell pregnant and Linda* who has been working with Jane for a few years now thought it would be nice for us to all put in and buy her a baby shower gift. She asked the other teachers on our stage to chip in too, four of us in total. Wanting to look like a team player I obliged. We each put in $50.
But then Linda decided she wanted to have a team dinner to see Linda off. So we did and in addition to covering my own meal (which I expected) we then split Jane’s meal too. In total, I ended up spending well over $100 on Jane, but being new to the school and wanting to make friends with my co-workers, I shrugged it off.
Then the next month rolled around and it was Belinda’s* birthday, another one of the teachers on our stage. Again, Linda went to town. She decorated her classroom, arranged another communal gift, and we took Belinda out to lunch on the weekend. I found myself severely out of pocket again.
The next month Linda’s* birthday came around and of course, everyone on our stage went all out once again. At this point, Belinda asked me how much I would like to contribute to Linda’s gift one day in the staff room. Jokingly, I said, “What if I don’t want to contribute?”. She laughed but also looked at me quite tensely. “No really, let me know how much you want to put in so I can go out and buy her present,” she responded before exiting the staff room.
Within a few minutes I'd received group communication on my work email with the other teachers on my stage from Belinda, asking us to each indicate how much we would be putting in for Linda's present so she could go out and purchase it that week. When my colleagues started responding with similar amounts, I worried that I would look cheap if I didn't put in the same, so again, agreed.
I know this is only going to continue with more birthdays, more babies and Christmas is coming up too and they're already discussing Kris Kringle. I really value the friendships I've made in my first year as a teacher, but anyone starting out in education will know, your salary isn't huge. I've just come out of uni and I'm working to pay off my student loan and wasting more money than I'd like to on gifts for people that I really haven't known for that long at all.
Each month I've spent hundreds of dollars on my colleagues, and far more than what I even spend on gifts for family and friends. But I don't know how to opt out of all the gift giving without offending anyone or burning bridges, particularly so early on in my career. What should I do?
* Names have been changed to maintain privacy.