Scrooge-bashing media make for a no-win Noel

18th December 2009 at 00:00

We hadn't even reached December when the first "Grinch teacher" of the season was unearthed by the national press, somewhere deep in the Devon-Cornwall borderland region. Some "killjoy" head there was introducing a 50p charge for pupils sending cards via the school's Christmas letterbox. This wicked West Country head wanted to use the takings to help pay for some lovely new trees for the school. It is a despicable crime. Parents, of course, were reported to be "furious".

Stories of supposedly mean-spirited teachers have become part of the predictable pre-Christmas tradition. The only thing unpredictable is whether the teacher in the headlines is described as a mere "Grinch" or wins the full "Scrooge" accolade. To get a media "Grinch" handle is certainly a proud moment in one's professional career, but I imagine most of us would prefer the richer and more rounded insult invoked by the older, Dickensian comparison.

The same tales pop out each year, rather like the images inside an advent calendar. The only suspense is guessing the order in which they might appear. (Actually, my own calendar this year, hand-made, has so far unfolded such unexpected delights as the head of Michael Gove superimposed on to that of a lamb gamboling in the snow, but that tale is not for here.)

By the time you read this, I fully expect that various teachers will have been nationally or locally basted and roasted - again - for any or all of the following customary festive atrocities.

One such teacher likely to get it in the neck at a primary school near you is the producer of the "seasonal drama for Christmas". Parents will reportedly complain that the school's Christmas Nativity was too "Jesus-lite" this year. One "fuming" parent will say, "There wasn't one mention of Jesus in the entire goddam production - just a load of touchy-feely songs about love and peace."

Look out, similarly, for the media outrage that will accompany the teacher who says it's a "story". This is the one who comes under traditional festive fire for inviting a young class to consider the Christmas story in the Bible to be more fairy tale than historical event. The poor teacher concerned may turn out to be a devout believer, but the protestations are, of course, too late. "'I thought this was supposed to be a Christian country,' says 'raging' parent."

The Bible-questioning teacher, however, will get off relatively lightly compared with the head who delivers the infamous Santa Claus assembly. Questioning the authenticity of the gospels is one thing, but there are other matters - fat, bearded and living in Lapland - that are way off limits. So some primary head's careless ad hoc assembly on belief, God and Santa Claus is always going to be a dicey venture. Something will slip out that shouldn't have done. Parents will be "livid". The whole episode will then escalate into something national and nuclear. For a while, even the nation's paedophiles are forgotten.

Another customary victim is, of course, the safety-first Scrooge. At least one school head will be in the news for banning displays of Christmas cards andor paper chains because of the risk of fire. Another will have deemed it necessary to introduce a CRB check on all outsiders attending the carol concert. (Oh all right, yes, that last one has already happened this year, according to The Sunday Times.)

Many teachers may feel excluded from the above attention, but fear not - they eventually come for the rest of us. We can expect to get caught up in the media's seasonal onslaught on various other categories of people. There is, for instance, precious little spare time for teachers at this time of year (what with putting on all those godless Christmas productions and everything), and so having the time to write lengthy personal messages in our Christmas cards is usually a luxury we cannot afford. So we naturally form a large proportion of those who send Christmas round-robin letters. Personally, I quite like reading these, but apparently sending these is a heinous thing to do.

Some of us will also fall into the category of people who organise staff parties. This also puts me in the doghouse. There is, of course, no way in which my colleagues should actually be expected to enjoy my generous hospitality. Instead, the advice from the media is always about "how to survive" such an event.

Similarly, many scribes will also come for me because I am something else that becomes mysteriously unacceptable at Christmas: an uncle. As such, I become another derided stereotype in those countless "surviving Christmas" features. I will be casually portrayed as "overbearing" or "lecherous" or "drunken". Uncles get a reasonable press for the rest of the year, but for some reason we are invariably depicted as an irksome and unwelcome presence at the Christmas dinner table.

We should take more offence, really, at the ritual abuse. Luckily, most teachers in December are either too ill or too knackered to care what anyone says about anything.

Stephen Petty, Head of humanities, Lord Williams's School, Thame, Oxfordshire.

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