Behaviour - The Three Wise Rules of survival
Last Christmas I bought the book Living Wild by Bear Grylls for my brother. He is a seasoned fell-runner who reckons that eating raw snake, drinking your own urine and wrestling the occasional alligator is a sign of true grit. But then again he isn't a teacher. And he isn't running a class on the The Last Day of Term Before Christmas.
For my primary colleagues, The Last Day of Term Before Christmas is when behaviour management strategies are put to the most extreme test possible. DVDs will be purchased, word searches printed and paracetamol stockpiled in a flurry of survival preparations. Bear Grylls would not last five minutes in this hothouse of manic enthusiasm and unbridled excitement.
The build-up to the Last Day has been difficult. Raucous parties have muscled their merry way between carol concerts and glitter catastrophes. Roman soldiers have slaughtered innocents. Eastern dignitaries have fought with lowly shepherds. Angels have had their wings clipped, sheep have stampeded and the Virgin Mary has twice given the baby Jesus up for adoption.
After 28 years of trying to deliver educational excellence over the festive period I have discovered one thing: there is no sure-fire way of calming the frenzy that is the last day. I generally make do with a set of Christmas coping strategies, which I call my Three Wise Rules.
Rule 1: Don't plan on doing anything useful
Never come in armed with a to-do list. Don't be lulled into a false belief that you can leave the children absorbed in Toy Story 3 while you tidy your teacher's cupboard, organise next term's resources or plan for the first week back. It is a festive fact that any attempt to be productive at this time of year will end up counterproductive. Past attempts by me have resulted in precious materials going AWOL and carefully composed plans being reduced to gibberish. This day, more than any other, you need to be a constant watchful presence over your class.
Rule 2: Use bribery and corruption
As chief scout of the Scout Association in the UK, Bear Grylls urges us to be prepared. For teachers this means never turning up on the last day without the basic survival equipment. This should include several bags of sweets and an armoury of prizes from your nearest pound shop. Always remember that rewards are more effective than punishments and in difficult times should be used indiscriminately. Whether it's for effort at team games, Christmas colouring competitions or for being good at sitting up, ensure no child goes unrewarded.
Rule 3: Don't let children help
If you are tempted to select a couple of reliable students to help you to get your classroom cleaned and sorted before school breaks up, forget it. Two years ago I relaxed this rule and allowed Jenny and Maisie to tidy the art cupboard. Unfortunately they subcontracted the task to Ryan and Nathan. In less than five minutes the sink had overflowed and the room was full of bubbles.
Alongside the Three Wise Rules, this year I have a new tactic. It will be something of an experiment and hopefully a blueprint for the future: I have a cunning plan to temporarily kill off all attempts at merry madness. For one day only I am going to Scrooge the life out of Christmas.
Picture the scene. Cheerful displays are gone and the learning environment is drab and austere. The lights have been turned off and the doors and windows opened to let in the chill December air. The children sit shivering around a meagre tea light (in a jam jar for health and safety reasons) as I begin to tell them the story of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol. After each ghostly visitation I pause in order to play one of my three "Humbug Games" - so-called because each prize consists of a solitary mint humbug.
Cadaver is a macabre version of Dead Fishes, with an emphasis on the most chilling, corpse-like poses. Musical Ghosts is similar to musical statues except that the participants have to move like pale spectres until the music stops. Pass the Dread Parcel sees our modest mint hidden under several layers of black tissue paper. My favoured musical accompaniment is the eerie strains of Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D Minor.
Of course the day will end with Dickens' upbeat Christmas message and the children will leave bearing festive goodies and cheery smiles. The mere idea of sending them into the cold with every shred of festive spirit wrung out of them causes me to shudder. I imagine myself hunted down over the frozen wastes of the playground by a pack of angry parents. It would take more than Bear Grylls to survive that.
Steve Eddison teaches at Arbourthorne Community Primary School in Sheffield, England.