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Spare a thought for teachers' tots

'Tis the season to be jolly and, whether or not your school decides to celebrate the Christian aspect of Christmas or just have a good time, there will surely be something on offer at every school for pupils to join in with and for parents to see.

Parents the length and breadth of the country will be snatching time off work to see the fruits of their loins in plays (politically correct or not), carol concerts (with or without carols) or talent shows (with or without talent). They will endure the butt-clenchingly boring performances of other people's children endlessly on stage, just for the heart-melting 10 seconds when their own offspring appear.

Teachers will have spent endless hours preparing, gritting their teeth and losing their voices shouting instructions to pupils on stage, backstage and - to those who could not be trusted in either place - in the audience.

But what about the teacher's child? Whether he or she is at nursery, playgroup, primary or secondary, their Christmas show will undoubtedly be in school time. So, as a teacher, how do you balance the needs of your own child with the needs of all the others in your care?

At this time of year, everyone depends on a kind-hearted, child-friendly boss who lets you slip away to catch the nativity play or Christmas concert. But what do you do if you work in a school with demanding children, over-stretched colleagues and inflexible hours? You may have weeks and weeks of holiday, but there are many more days and weeks of the year when you simply have to be on the premises between 8.30am and 3.30pm.

It may be slightly easier for secondary teachers, who can pray for the nativity play to be on stage at a time that coincides with a free period. But even that has its problems: do you take your chances, or do you ask for the time off in an up-front and in-advance manner? And what if a colleague is ill and you are asked to cover?

So this Christmas, if you are in a management position in a school, don't just think about the homeless and the deprived, think about the teacher's child. Do you really want to be responsible for that empty seat in the front row where mum or dad should be? Why not cover for them? Giving your presence in their class could be the best present of all.

Jackie Irvine is a former head of English, currently on a toddler-induced career break.

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