A moving month for all

John Bateman

John Bateman cherishes the long goodbyes of July

We're here - the time of year when colleagues pack their bags, clear their desks, and move to pastures new, often on the dubious assumption that the pasture's always greener on the other side.

Some are taking early retirement, some going onwards and upwards, and some just sort of disappear. Whatever the destination, it's the process of leaving that fascinates me.

Perhaps it's because of the length of notice required that gives teachers a particularly protracted period in which to say goodbye. In my experience, it's a time to be treasured.

For one thing, you are, from the moment you hand in that letter of resignation, just about fire-proof. There's not much "management" can do to you.

You know it, they know it, and they know you know it. Most things suddenly depend on your goodwill (and innate professionalism, of course). Body language, tone of voice and relationships change accordingly; you are no longer part of the furniture - you might even be missed.

Colleagues also change in the way they relate to you. First, there's the jokes about you having "escaped", sometimes motivated by jealousy (a bit like having dug the tunnel at Colditz and then hanging around for two months gloating about it). Then the wind-ups about the place you're going to. And then the leaving do.

But before that, there's the clearing of the deskcupboardfiling cabinet. And however tidy you claim to be, you'll always find things lurking that will surprise and may even bring out the melancholic in you: the fading photo of a staff football team with a younger, hairier you staring back; a mark-book with names long-forgotten; a Christmas card from a student who might have had a crush on you; a cheese sandwich you knew you left somewhere in 1987 - that sort of thing.

And then there's the memos. Hundreds of them. Memos that inspired fear at the time: asking for things to be done that you never did. Memos telling you of meetings to be dreaded that you've now forgotten, from managers who moved on long ago - one or two to that great Office in the Sky.

In the midst of all this, what's the best part about it? Tearing into the principal's office and telling it to him straight?

The emotional goodbyes to people who you've come to respect and admire? The booze-upspeeches ceremonials (certainly not the hangover)?

For me, the best bit is attending all the meetings to sort things out for next year to the chorus of "What are you doing here?" You can observe all the posturing, pecking orders and planning, safe in the knowledge that it's nothing to do with you, come September.

Such pleasure is shortlived: at the back of your mind you know that similar meetings are happening in your new institution.

Your name is already being used when it comes to sharing out responsibilities, otherwise known as being lumbered. And ringing in your ears is a little voice giving a glowing reference for the devil you know ... John Bateman is a lecturer from Worthing, West Sussex

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