So, we’re all back. Two weeks on the festive pop trolley seemed like it would last forever, but it now seems as remote and compact as the far-off memory it has become.
Schools are still, silent places when they reopen. One thing that always strikes me is how frozen they seem. Walk into the staffroom and you come across a tableau like one of those Pompeian villas where the whole family are still exactly where they sat or stood before Vesuvius dumped a world of ash on them.
Pigeonholes are stuffed with exactly the work you left in them, plus the chocolate orange and three cards you didn’t see before Christmas. Is there anything more forlorn than an uncollected, unopened Christmas card in January? All it serves as now is a goad to your conscience that says, “Ah, another one you forgot.” A few unwashed mugs of coffee from the last day of December term; perhaps even a couple of wine glasses if your school’s idea of a Christmas party was early and uncomplicated. It is like an office version of Time Team.
Of course, that’s if you weren’t among the ones who didn’t have the luxury of a clean break. Premises staff, it seems, get about five minutes’ rest from their labours, like some breed of Dickensian Sisyphuses. “An extra lump of coal Mr Zeus? God bless yer.” Or the admin staff, who enjoy a slightly longer absence than that but still appear to be in three days after your holidays started, and three days before they ended. I do not know what they do during this time. I like to think that they race around the corridors in roller skates and on hoverboards, or skid round corners in their socks like Tom Cruise in Risky Business.
When you meet these people, be extremely careful when you launch into stories about how you managed to get away on a city break to Venice for New Year’s Eve and why, only yesterday, you were hoovering Asti Spumante on a gondola. Your wage slips may get lost in the system until mid-February in an inexplicable clerking error.
Or you might stumble across one of those teachers who never seem to want to leave the building, who “just thought they’d catch up on a bit of planning”, even if it means coming in on Boxing Day. They’re the ones who actually hassle the premises staff the week before demob to ask “exactly” when the school will be open, and could they make an exception for New Year’s Eve.
By the time you arrive in early January, they’ve already put in a week of unpaid, thankless overtime, often to no visible gain. But don’t mention this. Unless you line manage them, in which case sit them down and have The Hard Word with them about work-life balance.
Of course, your own work is like a mighty mammoth, frozen the moment you left it, ready to thaw out and live again the second the central heating clanks and rattles back on. It feels like one of those rare, unpleasant sleeps where you feel as if you barely blinked between turning in and waking up. Other jobs – more rarely – have mysteriously disintegrated in the Phantom Zone; they no longer need doing, usually because they were time-stamped. But most of your labours are not like that. Like Arctic bacteria, they endure anywhere. Your job is exactly where you left it. Time to turn the crank again on the dream factory.
Tom Bennett is a secondary teacher, director of ResearchED and the government’s school behaviour expert @tombennett71