Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Not-So-Silent Night

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Not-So-Silent Night

Article excerpt

Tarzan impressions in the school gym, games of 'human buckaroo', headteachers as hats... They may have a reputation for being reliable and sensible but, says Jo Brighouse, primary teachers show their true nature at Christmas. Here are her five tips for making sure your staff party is a cracker

Primary teachers are a pretty tame lot. Reliable, sensible, upstanding members of society. We don't swear or chew gum; we wear sensible shoes and a warm smile. We're everything the outside world would want us to be.

While our secondary counterparts are free to enjoy crazy hairstyles, sarcastic banter with the kids and passionate encounters in stock cupboards (I've seen the sitcoms - everyone knows secondary staffrooms are a hotbed of sexual tension), we are conservative, restrained and spend our breaktimes conducting recorders and reminding five-year-olds how to use a knife and fork.

All very polite and sedate.

The majority of those not working in primary schools must, therefore, presume that a primary Christmas staff party would be a pretty gentle affair. A nice meal in a well-lit restaurant, a couple of glasses of wine, a gentle discussion about Strictly Come Dancing and then home by 10.30pm.

They would be wrong. And there are plenty of signs that all would not be quite as sedate as an outsider might imagine.

In the world of the primary school, Christmas spirit arrives early. After a good three weeks of tinsel, carols and mounting excitement, you would have to be the most hardened of Scrooges not to feel a warm glow of festive cheer. We don't get as excited as the children, but that Christmas jumper we scorned at the start of the month becomes essential wear and the Rudolph ears we threatened to bin are on our heads from the moment we leave the house.

We've had plenty of practice parties, too. This is the season for constant school social engagements of varying degrees of formality, most notably the all-encompassing nativity. So when we finally get to put the donkey and angel costumes back into storage, the chance to party in a manner that doesn't involve pouring orange squash into 30 cups is as welcome as a king in a stable.

And then there's the mindset (of the non-Carol Dweck variety). Teaching is a great job, but after a term of it most teachers feel like they've been put through the wringer. When Christmas finally arrives, our energy levels have plummeted to the point where struggling into some going-out attire and leaving the house seems like a Herculean task.

But that first drink in the company of colleagues is unrivalled in its revitalising properties. We don't get to talk to each other enough. Teaching can be an isolating job. We spend most of our working hours marooned in separate rooms, lost in a sea of children, so a quick five-minute chat in the staffroom - before we are called away to console a child with a grazed knee or to do battle with the photocopier - is often the best we can hope for. Therefore, the opportunity to congregate in a child-free zone and be given free rein to socialise with people whom you see every day but don't often get to chat to is irresistible and intoxicating.

And so we embark on the festive celebrations. We are easy to spot. In some restaurant or bar, or staggering down a local pavement, you'll see a group of people who could only be a primary school staff Christmas party.

It will be a large female crowd of mixed ages, interspersed with the occasional male. There will be lots of noise, laughter and red wine. And, probably because we spend our days modelling how to be sensible and mature, you'll see a lot of interesting behaviour: the Christmas party seems the ideal time to be as childish and irresponsible as we can manage.

If you are a primary teacher and you don't do this, you should be doing this. We deserve it. So here's my Christmas party guide for primary teachers:

1 It's all in the timing

The timing of the Christmas party is vital. …

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