You shall go to the ball, so you need to prepare

20th June 2014 at 01:00
Students have been dreaming of this evening all year - stop prom turning into your nightmare by following our veteran's wise advice

In the minds of final-year students, exams are last week's news and their only concern is the prom. This annual event provokes mixed emotions for all concerned, both students and staff. A year in the making, the planning culminates in a black-tie do at many schools. And the drama in the run-up to this pyrotechnic celebration can be a pastoral nightmare, with all the makings of a gripping docudrama.

Girls debate the depth of their spray tans: orange or more orange? Should they go with shellac, gel or acrylic nails? Who will style their hair? How big should their dresses be? (I have seen some humdingers in my time, including a gigantic pink confection that got wedged in a doorway.)

Transport is discussed at length because, as my students have explained to me, the car maketh the prom. Apparently, it is social suicide to arrive in a white limo, but a black limo is the last word in cool. Who knew? I suggested a party bus or fire engine might be fun. I was annihilated on the spot by the girls, who screamed that their outfits would be sullied by the oily residue. This was when I learned that leather seats are vital to the safe arrival of dresses.

The question of an escort does not appear to be that relevant in 2014, as my students prefer to travel in packs of 15 to 20. In the 21st century, the focus of prom night is the visual, not the romantic. In the 1980s, school discos were all about the "love", but now the end of school is a glamorous, Hello! magazine-style affair. I feel quite jealous; proms did not exist when I left school. The most that the early 1980s could promise us was a slow dance to Spandau Ballet and a packet of Skips from the tuck shop at the back of the hall.

When the prom arrives, your real duties begin. So, how would David Attenborough describe the most prevalent species of prom-goers? And how should you deal with them?

The snogging couple

Socially awkward but it wouldn't be prom without them. The most efficient method for combating this scenario is a torch. It's dark, therefore the snoggers will assume that no one can see them - an effective sweep in the darkest recesses will minimise physical contact.

The lurching inebriates

This classic party guest is present at prom every year. A large amount of vodka is consumed prior to the main event and, within half an hour of dancing, the lurching begins as the alcohol takes hold. If necessary, move swiftly towards your target and guide them to a table, armed with a jug of water and the promise of an understanding time-out.

The smokers

Now that prom is here, in students' minds it is the end of school and the start of adulthood, hence the smokers' shamelessness. Keeping them corralled in the designated area is exhausting. Two-person teams on rotating shifts (and with considerable diplomatic skills) will enable a fresher partying environment.

The hipster teacher

You may be a hipster out of school, but showing off on the dance floor will make you a social disaster on prom night. Unless you have won dance competitions, do refrain from strutting your stuff. And if you see a colleague re-enacting moves from the 1990s, rescue them - it could get ugly.

The after-party

So what happens when the lights come on? Do the limos turn into pumpkins and the gowns revert to rags? Metaphorically, yes. But in reality it's time for the after-party, often hosted by a well-meaning parent. The majority of the year group will swoop on their home like Alfred Hitchcock's birds with a mission to "partaaay" into the wee hours. I feel like screaming as ghoulish scenarios flash before my eyes: alcohol poisoning, legal highs, illegal highs, STDs, pregnancies, ambulances.

The after-party is seen as a rite of passage and it places parents in a difficult situation as it is almost impossible to police. But students are on roll until the end of August, so any fallout is invariably carried into school for pastoral teams to investigate and resolve. Our duty of care doesn't end when the lights go out. Clear messages on the ramifications of the number one threat - alcohol - in PSHE beforehand will hopefully have taken hold and some wise words about safety and the law should deter some of the worst possible excesses.

I will be reliving this all any day now. So how am I tackling prom this year? With a gorgeous little gold number and a rather fine French manicure. If you can't beat 'em.

Caroline Ross teaches in a secondary school in Hampshire

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