School at Christmas time must be a joyous place to work, everyone – perhaps rightly – presumes. What could you possibly have to complain about?
Let’s start with the differences between teaching and the “real world”. Everybody finds the grey and wet weather at this time of year a drag. Work in an office and you’ll probably find it a bit disappointing not to be able to get out for a lunch in the park like you did all summer, but that’s nothing like the chaos of having your classroom overrun by cooped-up juniors desperately trying to make the tallest Jenga tower.
Then there’s the Christmas shopping. Shops open late to allow everyone to race around town after work and buy their presents with time to spare. Except staff at school can’t take advantage of the late-night shopping – they’re too busy with the nativity play or the late-night Christmas fair.
And that’s not where the evening differences end. For, despite all the times we’ve been told to emulate the private sector, you can guarantee that the government doesn’t intend us to celebrate Christmas like the neighbouring firm of solicitors.
While those with partners who work in other industries are dragged along to all-expenses-paid Christmas parties in the big cities, you’re more likely to find school staff paying for themselves at the local pub.
They won’t be getting too drunk, though. Even if you manage to get a party on a Friday night, the chances are that the weekend won’t be spent nursing a monster hangover. Not when there’s next term’s planning to get underway.
All jobs have deadlines – but December seems to be filled with them in schools. Nativity rehearsals, the Christmas fair, the school pianist hammers out melodies of Christmas carols, and someone on the SLT thought it would be a good idea to start collecting data at this time of year!
Michael Tidd is headteacher at Medmerry Primary School in West Sussex