Towing the farewell party line

Mike Fielding discusses the merits and the minefields of saying goodbye.

You've secured the new job or retirement package and it's time to go. Your classroom's cleared out, your mark book and records handed over and your keys hung up. There's only one more challenge: the farewell "do".

For the past few weeks school staffrooms, pubs, clubs, posh hotels and more exotic locations have rung to the raucous and sometimes false laughter of departing staff and their colleagues.

Speeches are made, presents given, tears shed and promises of future contact exchanged. It's not just the departing member who won't be in school on Monday. Everyone will be on holiday. It's in December that the real loss is felt.

The leaving party may be anything from a full dinner at a local hotel, to cheap wine and crisps in the department office. Whatever the style, the purpose is the same - to provide a rite of passage for both those leaving and those left behind. Speeches can be excruciating unless they are very brief or very well prepared. Attempts at humour must be well judged - you don't want people walking out, which has been known.

Presents are nearly as tricky as farewell arrangements. Collections are made in secret but the leaving member usually knows perfectly well that this is happening, and would be distraught if it weren't.

Their partner is telephoned at home and asked what gift would be suitable. But these approaches are never foolproof. An important life skill is the ability to look pleased whatever your friends buy.

The date's set, the present's bought, but suddenly the reluctant recipient refuses to play. What do you do? Have the party anyway and send the present on.

For staff whose career is ending, the farewell event can be an emotional roller coaster. Even for those moving to a better job there is a feeling of loss. It's like leaving the safety of the shore and being shoved into uncharted waters.

No one should under-estimate the importance of farewell rituals. We all need to be recognised and have our work and fellowship celebrated. So, if you're leaving, be grateful that the farewell party is so deeply embedded in our professional processes, and pause long enough to accept the praise you almost certainly deserve Mike Fielding is head of Chulmleigh Community College, Devon.

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