Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

On the Twelfth Day of Christmas

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

On the Twelfth Day of Christmas

Article excerpt'll need a little lie-down. The festive season is testing for everyone, but for primary teachers it's downright exhausting. Steve Eddison looks back on the seasonal whirlwind and gives thanks for having survived with sanity - if not dignity - intact

It's six nights before Christmas and in this house not a teacher is stirring. A combination of cheap cocktails and several failed attempts to do the lambada with Mrs Goodtime at the staff party have left me dead to the world.

I could sleep right through to the new year if several members of my family didn't intend to wake me at first light. They want me to join in the ritual abuse of a young pine tree sacrificed to the god of seasonal excess; to lay gifts beneath its foliage, hang baubles on its branches and violate a fairy on its topmost sprig.

"Breaking up for Christmas." The phrase sums up the situation for primary teachers perfectly. Having survived a term that appeared to last longer than the Holy Roman Empire and ended in a car crash of glitter, glue and tears, we are presented with more of the same.

Does the world not appreciate the Herculean effort it took to get this far? Is no one aware of the 12 labours we undertook in order to survive the Nightmare Before Christmas?

'One word of warning...'

So hissed Mrs Wright (God rest her soul) while holding me pinned by the throat to the staffroom wall. "We never mention the C-word before December," she continued. This was the moment when, as a new teacher, I learned that the mere mention of Christmas has a unique effect on small children. It is like giving them several bags of Haribo in a single intravenous dose. It overstimulates them. They get incredibly excited and want to down tools immediately. They lose all sight of the fact that learning to be literate and numerate is why they come to school. For sanity's sake, primary teachers must delay the onset of festivities as long as possible - at least until November is out. After that it's time to abandon all hope, ye who enter here.

Two suitable parents

Mary and Joseph were a modest and virtuous couple, just the sort of people God needed to bring the baby Jesus into the world. Unfortunately, the children most determined to get starring roles in a school nativity play are neither meek nor mild. Take Laura. It was with great effort that I persuaded her and her mum that being a Wise Person was better than being the Mother of God.

"Think about it," I whispered to avoid other parents overhearing. "Mary was the poor wife of a simple carpenter; she travelled by donkey and gave birth in a stable, of all places. Balthazar, on the other hand, was not only a scholar but a ki...a queen who wore fine robes, expensive jewellery and travelled on the biblical equivalent of a Mercedes-Benz SLS."

Casting the nativity play is a challenge that can be survived only by being creative and fearless in selling the different roles.

Three core assessments

Could there be a worse time to carry out end-of-term tests in reading, writing and maths? Just when the children are bouncing off the ceiling like a bunch of escaped helium balloons, the papers arrive. They land on your desk with the gravest of thumps. Suddenly it's like the end of the I Love to Laugh scene in Mary Poppins. A distinct lack of enthusiasm, combined with a deep sense of injustice, descends upon the classroom.

When the tests are done, you can bemoan the fact that you have neither the time nor the energy to complete all the marking, but it won't go away. We just have to get on with it.

Four tubs of glitter

The dreadful truth is that Christmas creativity doesn't just consume valuable resources; it consumes the will to live. Although you can derive some joy from the fact that you don't have as much marking to do as usual, supervising the whole imaginative frenzy takes a huge physical and mental toll. …

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