You'll be missed - but how much?

5th August 2005 at 01:00
As another school year inches slowly towards its end there has been time to reflect on the past year. In the last weeks of term, I had more time to spend with pupils who had not gone on exam leave. And it was an unexpected pleasure to be involved in interviews for next year's head boy and head girl.

Each had been asked to submit a letter of application and each had to face the interview panel. I was so impressed. All were articulate, confident and focused - not an ASBO or hoodie among them. These are the teenagers we all dream of working with. I don't work in a super-school, but in a "bog standard" comprehensive. And, yes I teach my fair share of Vicky Pollards, and I suspect I have met The Omen's Damien - but there are great kids out there, too. It's nice to be reminded sometimes.

Flushed with this success, I was all set to embark on the annual pilgrimage to Alton Towers. All students deemed to be well-behaved were rewarded with a day out. Students who "forget" homework with monotonous regularity all year had miraculously returned their consent forms and cheques in less than 24 hours.

With the advent of the iPod, the coach journey was noticeably quieter this year. With many pupils cocooned in the music of their choice, the driver was left in peace to concentrate on getting us there, rather than retuning the radio every five minutes. Similarly, the introduction of seat belts on coaches has stopped pupils kneeling backwards in their seats and making gestures at passing lorry drivers.

Once they were safely inside the park, it was a doddle. At the end of the day, we sighed in relief as a quick head-count showed all were present and correct and no one had fallen in the boating lake or been left hanging upside down on Nemesis. The journey back was far noisier. By now the adrenaline of taking on the big rides, combined with pupils consuming their own body weight of additive-laden sweets, meant they were at fever pitch. I admired all the photos from the rides and tried to block out the sound of 15 giant inflatable hammers being bounced off heads. The pupils asked me about the scariest ride I'd been on all day. Dare I admit it was the three-hour journey home?

Now is also the time to say farewell to colleagues who are leaving, especially to those who are retiring. I've been thinking about how much they've given to the school, and how much they will be missed.

Check out Friends Reunited - (go on, admit it, who hasn't had a quick scan through the "teacher memory" section to see if they've got a mention?).

There you will find former pupils who have taken the trouble to recall these teachers fondly. Some date back to the 1970s - long before the current cohort of pupils was born.

Those of us left behind will have to adjust to the change. Never mind that the headteacher thinks that he has the most important role in school. In my staffroom we know that the most important job is bringing in the milk for break-time coffee. What will we do next year when our milk provider is off drawing his pension? Where will I go now for advice on motoring holidays in France? Who else on the staff carries every Bob Dylan lyric in his head? Will we ever finish the cryptic crossword at lunchtime again? Will it be left to me to explain to future generations of teachers why we have wine corks embedded in the staff-room ceiling tiles, and why there is a picture of a Hitler lookalike on the notice board?

With them will also go the oral tradition of the school; the stories of former headteachers and infamous staff socials, the ability to trace the lineage of current pupils back through three generations, as well as a working knowledge of complicated extended families that even Burke's Peerage would struggle to keep up with.

I have benefited hugely from the advice and support of these colleagues.

Most of all I have been kept afloat by their dry wit. Maybe I should use these summer holidays as a rehearsal for my own retirement - I certainly intend to leave all the hard work and stress behind me until September.

Dawn Jones is head of religious studies at Prestatyn high school, Denbighshire

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