Is your staff party like this?

8th July 2005 at 01:00
Gay Gordons squeezed into the deputy head's lounge. An entire staff who fell asleep at the restaurant table. Kevin Berry reports on how teachers let their hair down at the end of another school year

Am I alone in being surprised that no one has ever written a play about a staff night out? Plenty of food and plenty of drink and a score or more of near-exhausted adults who have already seen quite enough of each other.

Plus the spouses and partners who would far rather be elsewhere. What dramatic potential there is. What comic potential.

Anything can happen, and generally does. At my first staff "do", the voluptuous non-teaching assistant from the infant department flashed her eyes, and much, much else, at the husband of another new teacher. He was smitten and that was that. "She's after anything in trousers," someone told my wife."She's a real marriage-wrecker. But there's really no need for you to worry, my dear."

Thanks a lot, I thought.

Keep your head down at the staff "do" and leave before the end, but not immediately after the first sip of coffee. Timing is essential. As the evening wears on, tiredness grips. And when any human being gets tired, irritability kicks in.

For one end-of-term bash, my wife's colleagues took over a restaurant in a remote Pennine town. At 11pm, I returned from a toilet trip to find every single one of them fast asleep. I feigned sleep for an hour until the proprietor, upset that no one was buying drinks from his bar, woke everyone by banging his gong.

It is advisable to miss one staff party occasionally, then your presence will be appreciated. Sit with a different group each time you go and you won't be considered part of a staffroom clique.

Watch yourself about stumping up the cash. Seriously, folks. Pay promptly because lateness can build up resentment. Make sure that your payment is recorded and preferably pay at the same time as a friend, so that you have a witness. Collectors have made mistakes with adding up and then forgotten who has paid. He or she gets upset and then the accusations start.

Collecting can be a real pain.

At my second school, those who were in with the deputy head were invited back to her house for coffee and more drinks. She was an enthusiastic Scottish country dancer and would slip some records on making people feel forced to dance the Gay Gordons. The dancing took place in the smallest lounge I have ever been in. And it was crowded.

I was asked along once, but was never invited back. I actually thought that the dancing was supposed to be a lark. It wasn't. It was serious stuff indeed. Some of them belonged to a Scottish country dancing group - led by the deputy head.

Spouses and partners will be bored witless on a staff night out. They will know no one. The talk will be restricted, as it would be at any office party. Partners will be asked questions about your relationship so prepare yourselves. Agree on where you met, and so on. Pretend you're trying for a Green Card to get into the United States. Best warn partners about whom and which subjects are to be avoided.

Accepting or offering a lift can restrict your leaving time. Offering a lift can make you late - or there can be embarrassing situations. My wife and I arranged to collect Maggy in an unfamiliar part of town. Normally neat and tidy, Maggy looked particularly glamorous that evening. There she was, just where she had said she would be, but an older woman in red leather coat and thigh-high boots was swearing vigorously at her.

"Thank goodness you're here. That woman under the lamppost. She biffed me with a handbag and she's been swearing at me ever since... She said, 'Clear off! You young tarts have got a nerve. I've been working this patch for twenty years'," Maggy said, rather breathlessly.

I particularly enjoyed the staff party that coincided with my last day as a teacher. Late in the evening I fell into conversation with Bill, a nice chap who had just completed his first term as deputy head. He was frowning.

"I'm concerned about the next Ofsted," he said. "Very concerned indeed."

"So am I Bill," I said, in what I hoped were sympathetic tones. "So am I."

Apparently, the smirk on my face was absolutely sickening.

Some staff parties can be good fun. Apparently, there is a school in Lancashire where the head treats everyone to a paintball evening.

I can remember going to a small fun fair for one staff outing, and having a whale of a time on the dodgems. It was what everyone needed after a tiring summer term.

At Christmas, everyone expects turkey with all the trimmings and the chance to look posh.

Come July, it's time to do something different. Here are some ideas:

SPOILT FOR CHOICE

Other professions go go-karting or do similar fun activities. So why not teachers? Suggest one of the following as an alternative to the traditional end-of-term meal or drink:

* The casino. But agree on a sensible money limit. Food is fairly cheap and generally quite decent.

* The greyhound track. Very popular, even with normally sedate people.

* The bowling alley. Where there never seems to be any friction.

* Outdoor theatre or concert, plus a picnic. Wet weather can make the evening memorable - Dunkirk spirit and all that.

* Quad-biking. More socially acceptable than driving 4x4 vehicles, and more enjoyable.

* Watch a bizarre sport, such as tractor-pulling. Cricket is a bizarre sport, but far too weird to watch when you could be partying.

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