Rules of thumb for nights of delight

Laura Peters

The teachers' night out brings headaches even in advance. Finding a suitable venue and available evening is no easy task. Once these criteria are met, colleagues soon remember other plans they have already made and make their apologies in a surprisingly chirpy manner. Some will do this as soon as the venue is booked and deposit paid. Others will wait until the day of the event itself.

There are staffs who do not hold an event until after Christmas as by then, they claim, headaches are cured and tolerance levels stretched. For them Christmas might get mixed up with Burns Night, but is likely to be less stressful. The food and service tend to be much better too.

Whatever the season, the following advice applies.

Continuity: this ensures that future staff social occasions build on teachers' experience and achievement. There are three aspects: First, continuity involving everyone taking a turn at organising the night out on a rotational, yearly basis. This develops a sense of belonging among the newer members of staff and allows past organisers the opportunity to repay in kind the colleague who gave them most hassle. The fun dimension adds to the spirit as one anticipates which colleagues the organiser will fall out with first and which career move the organiser is now considering.

Second, continuity involving the individual moving from school to school to avoid ever having to organise such an event. This strategy offers a varied career in teaching, but with the current job situation does not guarantee success.

Third, continuity involving the same teacher organising staff social events. If he or she is unsuitable, social activities will inevitably become anti-social. In such cases, a "suitable volunteer" should quickly step in and hijack arrangements. These individuals are rare commodities who should be carefully nurtured.

Breadth: This provides for everyone wishing to participate in the evening to be allowed to do so. There is a tendency for unpopular, difficult members of staff to be discouraged or, at worst, excluded from such events. Without breadth, the consequences can be disastrous.

Evidence comes from the story of the staff who did not invite their headteacher to their Christmas do. This had been democratically and unequivocally decided as every member of staff loathed the woman. The group was set to meet at a familiar town centre landmark. The head's husband was well known to the staff as he had helped out with the boys' football and chauffeured her about.

When the evening came, the early birds waited at the rendezvous for their colleagues to arrive. Coincidentally, husband of HT and his mates came out of the very pub they were standing in front of. He was genuinely pleased to see them and suggested that they join forces and go for a meal together. The teachers' responses to this suggestion revealed the truth of the situation. When the penny finally dropped, he let his mates go on without him, while he waited with the teachers until everyone arrived. Consequently, HT wrought revenge on every member of staff identified by her husband.

Balance: This ensures that staff are provided with a variety of social learning experiences. This is achieved by being prepared to sit beside colleagues with whom they are not on close speaking terms. Where possible, teachers of similar age, vegetarians and teetotallers should not sit together. The exception to this rule are smokers. By the end of the evening they have formed a colony at the end of the table.

Coherence: If one wants to be taken seriously, then one must be coherent at all times. But if having a good time is deemed more important, incoherence is strongly advised. This will ensure that no one understands or remembers any indiscretions. Hence the staff who come into school the next morning and cannot remember anything prior to meeting up at someone's flat late at night have nothing to fear. In contrast, if one colleague coherently relates an intimate story the rest will NEVER look at him or her in the same way again.

Members of staff should take equal responsibility for ensuring that these principles are adhered to at all times. This will require careful planning. The sooner that is understood, the sooner the festivities will begin.

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