Tinsel without the tears

6th December 2002 at 00:00
Lynn Huggins-Cooper explains how to keep your sparkle throughout the class party season

Is your classroom full of drying egg cartons, covered in foil and cunningly disguised as bells? Do the cleaners curse you as they tackle the daily shimmer of glitter on your classroom floor? Is your carefully planned timetable shot full of holes as your class troop into the hall for yet another carol service practice? Is your desk piled high with checked tea towels (shepherd headdresses), tinsel (angel haloes) and old blue sheets (Mary's robes)? Then it must be Christmas.

When sane people are worrying about what they will be cooking for Christmas dinner, what on earth they will buy for their loved ones, and how to avoid playing charades, primary school teachers have a different set of seasonal anxieties.

In your first year in school, you are expected to take a part in whatever annual extravaganzas your school traditionally associates with Christmas. This can take up an amazing amount of time as you rehearse carols and practise words and appropriate behaviour for Nativity plays. And be prepared on the big day for parents getting in your face with video cameras and flashbulbs.

Your first Christmas party as a primary teacher may come as something of a shock. You will be amazed at all the sparkly "baby-Britney wear" and miniature Tom Cruise lookalikes who turn up. Provide music (they like to dance, and you will be expected to join in), and, if children bring in their own tapes or CDs, insist they are labelled clearly. Before you push the play button, make sure you know the kind of content on any tapes or CDs. Now is not the time for gangsta rappers singing the praises of Uzis; also be wary of obscenities and drug references. It's easy to get used to listening to music with dodgy lyrics at home, but angry parents will be quick to react when little Johnny comes home singing, "Bitch, I'm 'a kill you".

It's a good idea to think of a few games to fill some of the time, according to the age of the children in your class. If you can't remember any games from your own childhood, there is a wealth of party books for inspiration. Look on the internet at www.indiaparenting.comfuntimepartygamesindex.shtml. Ask a couple of reliable parents to come in and help you - you'll be grateful.

As a teacher of younger children, you will find Santa playing a large part in your life as December progresses. Be careful - this is not the time for brutal scientific realism. If you don't want a mob of parents massing outside your classroom with burning torches, do not make it your business to let their children know that mum and dad fill their stockings.

But have an answer ready. I have been asked many times by indignant children if I believe in Santa. You can remain true to yourself while fudging answers. Something along the lines of: "Well, what do you believe?"

has worked for me, as the child then gives you cast-iron proof that Santa exists - muddy footprints, thank-you notes for sherry, carrot tops spat out by sloppy reindeerI You will also find yourself with enough bubble bath to last the coming year (some of which may bring you out in strange blotches). And forget any idea of cutting back on calories as you will be bombarded with chocolates of every flavour. Worst of all, however, are the ornaments. Some will be hideous. Crystal mice, china fairies, "cute" animals - all life is there. But as you inwardly flinch, remember these gifts are chosen with care and given with love. Be gracious - remember that you are an important part of the lives of these children, and act accordingly.

Then, there are the blessed parents who give you a nice bottle of something (usually parent helpers who know how much you need to "relax"). It's a nice gesture to buy a card and a small gift such as chocolates at Christmas for any parents who have helped regularly during the year - it lets them know how much you value their input.

The night-out etiquette is a potential minefield. Like any office party, the staff social is fraught with dangers as people meet out of context and inhibitions are lowered by alcohol consumption. Just because the head is dancing the macarena with glee, do not be tempted to do anything that will haunt you in the spring term. Facing someone (especially a senior manager) at the next staff meeting, as you have flashbacks of the groping and snogging variety, is not a favourable situation, especially for a newly qualified teacher.

At the risk of sounding matronly - eat before you go out, pace your drinks and have your cab home pre-booked. Above all, though, remember to take time to enjoy yourself. It's an old cliche, but seeing Christmas through the eyes of a child - or even 30 children - is a joy and a privilege.

Oh, and don't forget to save the Christmas cards, old wrapping paper and "interesting" packaging. They may come in handy as "resources" next year.

Lynn Huggins-Cooper is a PGCE lecturer at Newcastle University

Head off the hysteria

On the last day of term, be prepared - the children will be horribly excited.

* Programme in quiet-time activities such as a suitably seasonal story and circle time, in amongst the running round, clearing up, and so on Don't forget:

* A roll of black rubbish sacks - and, as you are clearing up, to get ahead on organisation for next term

* Christmassy music and a tape player - useful for tidy-up time

* Cards for all the children in your class

* A large, cheap bag of assorted lollies

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