Problems - with bells on
Retirement is great, but I miss Christmas at school. The concerts, the plays, the parties - all the activities that make this such a special time of year. But, Christmas being a religious festival, I also remember the difficulties we had with parents, such as Mrs Stebbin, who wanted her daughter withdrawn from all Christmas activities.
"We don't celebrate it," she said. "That's fine," I replied. "But we teach tolerance and understanding of everybody's beliefs. Our curriculum covers many religions and Christianity is one of them." She nodded: "I understand. I'm a tolerant person. But I want Cheryl put in another classroom when her teacher's talking about Christmas."
That simply wasn't practical, I explained. Every class would be working on Christmas activities or practising plays over the next fortnight, so perhaps Cheryl should be kept at home? Mrs Stebbin suggested that Cheryl could sit outside my room with a book for a fortnight, then reluctantly agreed to keep her off school. I felt sorry for Cheryl, who looked downcast about not being able to perform in the class play.
Mr Amit appeared two days before the Christmas concert. "Femi's in a Christmas play," he said. "It's against our religion." The class play wasn't religious. Femi had been rehearsing enthusiastically and I couldn't believe that she hadn't mentioned it to her parents before now. I explained that Femi would be disappointed, and after heavy bargaining Mr Amit said: "Perhaps she could hold the curtain... so long as she doesn't look at the stage."
Mrs Banner didn't want her child in the concert, either. "We don't like Jeremiah drinking at the poisoned well," she said, mysteriously. "But hang on. Jeremiah has just bought a ticket for the Christmas disco," I said. "Oh, that's all right," she replied. "He can go to the disco and the parties, but he can't join in the concert. It's against our religion." I told Mrs Banner that if you're in for one part of Christmas, you're in for the rest as well.
Even the Christmas dinner had its moments. "I don't want custard put on Samuel's mince pie," his father said. "It'll make him vomit. Can you put it in a separate bowl?"
By keeping calm and carrying on, we always got through, but some of the most unnerving moments for staff invariably occurred during the Christmas concert, when the children performed to a hall packed with adoring parents.
The youngest children's performance of "Santa's Toybox" was just such a moment. Beautifully constructed by the teacher, the toybox took centre stage ready for the chief elf to open, whereupon Santa's toys would come out one by one and perform a dance.
When the time came for the lid to be lifted, Alfie seemed to be struggling. "Open the lid," urged his teacher from the wings. "Open the lid!"
Alfie fiddled frantically. "Open the lid. Open the lid!" implored his teacher again. "I'm trying," Alfie announced loudly and irritably. "But the bloody thing's stuck!"
Have a happy, restful Christmas.
Mike Kent is a retired primary school headteacher in England. Email: email@example.com.