Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

TES Talks To. Jennifer Andrews

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

TES Talks To. Jennifer Andrews

Article excerpt

The dean of Canada's professional Santa training school tells Elisha Gilbertson how the best portrayals of Father Christmas can bring a little magic into primary schools

Beyond the obvious safeguarding checks, most primary schools are not too picky when it comes to selecting a Santa. It tends to be a job that lands on the soon-to-be-much-sat-upon lap of whoever has the figure and temperament to pull off a passing resemblance to the man himself, does not have an allergy to cheap polyester and can be persuaded to sit for hours on end in a "grotto" (a gazebo strewn with tinsel and spray snow) wearing a beard of questionable quality.

But Jennifer Andrews, dean of Canada's prestigious Santa School - where professional training is provided to both beginner-level and more experienced Santas - believes that schools need to set their sights higher.

"Any guy can slap on a beard and put on a red suit and go out, but it's not any guy [we should be] looking for, but a magical, iconic person," she says.

Andrews does admit that finding such a person, particularly within the catchment of a small local primary, might be difficult.

"They're not a dime a dozen. I think when you're looking for a professional who has specific attributes and abilities it's never easy," she says.

But if you can't find "the one", then you can provide your chosen Santa with a little training to ensure the spell of the experience is not broken for the children. And she is willing to share some of her expert tips to help you do that.

The first thing Andrews would like to make clear is that Santa does not have to be an overweight, white male in their later years - anyone can bring the magic of Christmas to life for young children.

"We have trained people of many different genders and races in our school," she says. "What matters to being a good Santa is that you have the right personality and the right heart. You have to love children."

Be there with bells on

It's also important to appoint someone who genuinely wants to play the role because, if they don't, any training will be a waste of time. "You have to love it," Andrews insists. "So it's not a job. You know the old saying 'do what you love and you'll never work a day in your life'? I think that's true."

With that enthusiasm in place, the training can begin. The school offers extensive instruction at a cost of $500 (£400), which was devised by its founder - a "Santa" who apparently has an international reputation for excellence.

"We talk about delivering experiences and delivering a memory, not just a picture with Santa," Andrews says. "It does take a very specific skill set, and in order to do it well requires so many different aspects of a person in that moment. So there's a lot of training that goes into it, and there's a lot of skill involved; it is difficult if you're really trying to deliver magic."

Thankfully, Andrews is happy to provide a trimmed down version for the would-be Santas of British primary schools. It may seem obvious, but to portray Santa, you have to be able to walk, talk, act and look like him. That requires more than just throwing on a red suit and channelling Richard Attenborough in Miracle on 34th Street.

The look is about investing in a decent suit and storing it appropriately so that, from one year to the next, it doesn't end up looking like some tatty old pyjamas. Bag it up properly, keep it somewhere the damp won't set in and make repairs immediately to prevent any damage getting worse and worse. …

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