Why I wrote a rhyming staff panto (oh yes, I did!)

Unable to deliver her school's usual charitable event this year, this teacher found another way to spread festive cheer
1st December 2020, 12:52pm
Anne Looker


Why I wrote a rhyming staff panto (oh yes, I did!)

Why I Wrote A School Staff Panto For 2020

The staff panto is a Christmas tradition that - whether you love it or loathe it - occupies a unique place in school life. 

After all, when else can pupils see their teacher acting so...foolishly.

This year, more than ever, it is something that in our school we knew had to take place - not just for everyone to have fun but to keep our charitable giving going through an initiative we run called St Chris Cheer.

Usually it works by getting form groups to fill a shoebox with age/gender-appropriate gifts, which students and staff deliver and distribute to children at the local orphanage.

However, due to the pandemic, this is not possible this year. The thought of missing this important date, one which we shared every year with our local community, filled my heart with absolute sadness.

As such, in my role as community service coordinator, I knew it was my responsibility to remind students (and teachers) that, regardless of the circumstances, we cannot forget those who rely on us - now more than ever.

Our school Christmas fundraising panto

So, to replace this charitable act with something fun but also possible within Covid-19 guidelines, I hit upon the idea of asking for donations to watch a school panto that we would film and edit beforehand before it was watched in classrooms.

A small donation (of 1 Bahraini dinar, equivalent of around £2) would come directly from each student. Students can give more but this is totally optional.

We could then broadcast it via the whiteboards in class, with a link to the video sent by our media relations team to Form Tutors, ensuring there was no access to video during or after the event - something we do to prevent students editing material with staff in.  

With the plan in place, I sat down to write a panto. How hard could it be?

Rhyming inspiration

It started with the classic line "'Twas the afternoon before half-term" and I was shocked how quickly the creativity flowed from my weary and tired mind. 

I guess writing about colleagues, who are also friends, reminded me how much can be gained from investing in these relationships.

The first thing I realised was that I desperately needed an objective narrator, and I was inspired by my nephews and their love of that naughty Elf on the Shelf. The plot revolves around the naughty elf turning up to the school with the sole purpose of causing havoc.

As he moves around the school, from one department to another, he discovers the various antics of the teachers: throwing snow, wrapping presents and even TikTok rehearsals - with the story all told through rhyming couplets. 

My aim was to include as many members of staff as possible, and I placed them in scenes I felt befitting their expertise. 

Needless to say, it was rather easy to rhyme the English department reading a real "page-turner" with the science department and their "Bunsen burner".

Other rhymes were a bit more creative, such as: "The moment he entered the Sixth Form block, there was a discussion about 'Ucas and the need to apply' and 'some of the students tried not to cry!'"

At times, I had to remind myself that this was for the students and not the staff; hence some lines were edited to remove the classic innuendos likely to appear in pantos.

Oh, no she couldn't...Oh, yes she could!

Once the script was finished, like any potentially controversial project, it was sent to senior management for approval.

Other than a few select edits, I got the go-ahead the very next day. It is important to mention that our headteacher, Mr Wilson, is always the first person to volunteer for my somewhat unconventional ideas if he knows they will make staff and students smile.

To further mark this milestone of our first ever panto, he even suggested a designated morning for all students to watch, providing all form classes with a Christmas breakfast to enjoy during the recorded performance.

With the pressure firmly on, an email with the script was sent to my colleagues. 

It was then that the first Christmas miracle happened: not only did the staff I had included in the script flood my inbox with their enthusiasm and excitement, but I had those quiet and reserved members of staff (which we have in every school) emailing me asking where and when to show up! 

Amazed and slightly stunned, I had to rewrite my relatively low key and "just for fun" script to accommodate the additional actors.

Places everyone

Now with the broadcast date fast approaching, my special student elves (aka students studying A-level media) are busy filming elaborate and complex scenes, creating a seamless series of (unfortunate) events. 

As I sit and write this, I cannot help but think I have the best job in the world. I am now in my 16th year of teaching and I continue to be amazed by students and, at times, myself. 

We have so many opportunities to change the lives of young people and it is not just our subjects that make us teachers but our optimism to create an environment where young people feel valued, happy and included.

It seems only fitting to end this with the final words spoken by my elf on the shelf: "Despite the challenges faced, this place seemed second to none, students and teachers uniting as one."

Anne Looker is an English teacher and community service coordinator at St Christoper's School, Bahrain. She has been teaching for 16 years, and internationally for four

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