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When to run away from a student in the holidays

If you spot a pupil over the summer, sometimes the only way to protect your dignity is to flee, writes Stephanie Keenan

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The long-awaited holidays are finally here. You limped away from school, clutching thank-you cards to your chest like a shield, almost expecting the building to explode behind you (because you are the 007 of teaching). Now you are free. And the last thing you’re expecting is to see one of your students. But it will happen.

Whether you are doing the Aldi shop in your jogging bottoms, or wearing your best bikini on Brighton beach, somewhere, somehow, you will encounter a present or former student, and they will realise that you are a human being with an actual life outside of school. It can be an unsettling moment for everyone.

Normal people would just wave and smile, of course. Particularly well-balanced people with a healthy school-life connection might even stop and have a chat. But some of us will always panic when we see a student out of context, however innocent the situation.

Awkward student encounters

Firstly, it’s weird that they’re not in uniform, behind a desk. They don’t have a book. Or a pen. And you’re out of your subject zone: what are you meant to talk to them about if not Orwell, osmosis or oxbow lakes? They’re not your age, they’re not your friends; your only connection is that you’re supposed to be the responsible adult who knows interesting stuff. What if you’re not interesting (or adulting) when they see you?

If you see a student during the holidays, should you run away? Adopt an impromptu disguise? Cancel your all-inclusive? In some situations, yes, absolutely. 

Here is a list.

You should run away if you are: in your swimwear; on a nudist beach, without any swimwear; pushing a trolley full of booze; in any festival or club scenario involving hair braiding, glitter or arm-waving (otherwise known as dancing); on a first date; putting a cheeky bet on in the bookies; on a hen or stag do; getting a spray tan; even slightly tipsy; buying any form of birth control; in a STD clinic or police station waiting room (unless you want to style it out by pretending that all teachers are actually police officers in the holidays).

Some of these scenarios have actually happened to me. Some are the stuff of back-to-school nightmares. Some seem unimaginable, yet have definitely happened to someone.

Other than these, though, you should be fine. Just wave, smile and have a chat. Act normal. They are human, too.

Bumping into the parents, though, that’s another matter entirely….

Stephanie Keenan is curriculum leader for English and literacy at Ruislip High School in London. She blogs at and tweets @stephanootis

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