Don't wine about hangovers

27th April 2007 at 01:00
Drinking the deputy head under the table on a Thursday night may seem like a great idea at the time, but Year 9 will be waiting for you the next morning and they don't take prisoners. Hannah Frankel finds out how you cope.

Did Oscar Wilde have teachers in mind when he said: "Work is the curse of the drinking classes"? Unfortunately we may never know, but there is no doubt that teaching - at its best one of the most satisfying professions around - can be complete hell when you have a hangover.

Almost 1,300 teachers have joined the debate on The TES online staffroom ( about the highs and considerable lows of drinking alcohol on a school night. Although teachers are not notorious drinkers - no matter what Teachers, the TV series, implied - they are just as likely as anyone else to feel tender at work from time to time.

Unlike others, however, teachers cannot just hide behind their computer nursing their sore heads - Year 9 will see to that. "I've taught a few lessons with a hangover and realised it could make a bad day a lot worse,"

warns a young poster on The TES staffroom. "The kids could also sense I was in a bad way and would play on it. I wouldn't recommend it."

Jon Barbuti, author of Learning to Teach with a Hangover, which contains a range of practical advice for trainee teachers, researched his book with some gusto. "I have been in a school where there was quite a culture of drinking, with teachers regularly going out on week nights and turning up with hangovers the next day," he says. "In other schools teachers didn't seem to go out at all in the week. In fact, they were often boringly puritanical."

Although drinking and teaching are not obviously compatible, Jon says social drinking does have its benefits. In some schools he visited, drinking together was an effective team-bonding experience that led to happier staff. "I don't think drinking should be a key element of any event because a lot of people may not want to drink. But some sort of get-together, even just a night in the pub, can be a great way of working through a few issues away from the stifling atmosphere of the staffroom."

Pete, 28, a science teacher from Bristol, agrees. He says he was first attracted to his school because of its strong pub culture, which sees staff drinking together at least twice a week. "There are a lot of young teachers at the school and we all like to unwind over a few drinks after work," he says. "It's very important to me that my colleagues are a fun group of people who I get along with socially. I don't think I could work somewhere where everyone just went home at the end of the day." Even Pete, however, draws the line at lunchtime drinking - although more due to time restraints rather than any moral considerations.

It was all rather different 30 years ago, according to Fred Sedgwick, 62, an ex-primary head from Suffolk, who wrote How to Teach with a Hangover: a practical guide to overcoming classroom crises. "There's been a cultural shift with drinking over the years," he says. "In the 1970s, all the teachers used to go down the pub on Friday lunchtime and we used to get through quite a lot of wine during the afternoon twilight courses I led.

Now I think that would be viewed as very unprofessional. A lot of teachers also drive to work, so they don't want to drink."

Fred only once taught with a hangover - a miserable experience in 1969 that put him off for life. "I just felt so ill, I vowed to myself 'never again'.

Now I would be ashamed of myself to teach with a hangover. Teaching is such a demanding job, you've got to have a relatively clear head if you are to do it any sort of justice."

But in our drink-heavy society, it is inevitable many teachers will continue to face their class with a throbbing head and a heavy heart.

Almost two-thirds of Britons drink more than their recommended daily limit (four units for men and three for women), according to a study last year from the Drink Aware Trust. More than 20 per cent of respondents admitted drinking to excess a few times a week and almost 40 per cent said they did so once a week.

Laura, a 23-year-old newly qualified teacher based in Newcastle, is one of them. Many of her friends are still students and she finds it hard to resist the lure of drinking heavily with them during the week. "They usually just miss their lectures the next day, but I've still got to get up early to go to work. I still feel like quite a student at heart but it's hard to straddle that lifestyle with the reality of the classroom. At the end of the day, it's my planning and preparation that suffers. If I haven't put in the work beforehand, it quite often doesn't go so well in the lesson. And if I'm tired, the kids wind me up much more. At the end of the day, it's not fair on them."

If such a situation should occur, Jon recommends keeping your head down and on no account admitting your con-dition to the pupils. "It's not wise to own up," he says. "It could get back to the head and then what might have only been a minor hangover could become a major headache."

Hangover cures

If faced with a hangover:

Drink plenty of water to counter dehydration but avoid caffeine.

Eat food high in fructose, such as bananas. It will provide you with lost sugars and potassium.

Take on board vitamin C. It will help to support the liver while it processes alcohol. Vitamin B is also important and can be found in Berocca.

Get plenty of rest.

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