I’d like to dedicate my column this week to teachers of infants up and down the land who are in the throes of nativity rehearsals. Frankly, sometimes I think I should dedicate pretty much everything I do to the wonder of infant teachers. As someone who only occasionally finds themselves teaching the littlest hobgoblins, I am constantly in awe of anyone who can muster the necessary energy and enthusiasm day after day. And never is that more the case than in the run-up to Christmas.
Having often taught the oldest year group in primary, I am well used to rehearsals and singing practices in preparation for a final performance. I am familiar with the exasperation of children not knowing their lines, or of my voice being the only one still at full volume for verse three of any song. But I’ve also had the luxury of being able to express that frustration. By Year 6, it’s reasonable to put some expectations on the children, and part of our role is to raise their own expectations of themselves.
The same cannot be said of six-year-olds.
I often used to say that the challenge I found about teaching younger pupils was their susceptibility to tears. If ever a Year 6 pupil cried as a result of my words, it was usually because of a concerted effort I’d had to make to drive a message home. For the typical Year 1, tears are not out of the question because of an inside-out sock after PE. You certainly can’t berate a group of them for not learning their lines.
Tears and fears before the nativity
And that’s not the half of it. When putting together the leavers’ production each summer, I would sometimes spend hours sat on a chair at the back of the hall, bellowing my annual catchphrases: “louder, and slower!” and “face the audience!”. No such luxury for the infant nativity director, who must eschew the limited comfort of a plastic hall chair, and instead take up the uncomfortable position of kneeling on the floor.
Then there’s the performance itself. Again, no reassuring position of darkness, behind the lighting desk or prompting from the wings. No, the infant teacher must instead take up his or her position kneeling in the aisle, gesticulating for every required action, and singing each line merrily at the top of their voice. No doubt there are home videos all over the land where the muted voices of 60 infant pupils are lost behind the deafening glee of Miss Wilberforce as she mouths each word with gusto.
It mightn’t be so bad if the script were witty, and the acting entertaining. Instead we must usually settle for a few Christmassy puns ("Baby Cheeses" anyone?) and constant straining in an attempt to hear the lines spoken of anything but the clearest narrator. Of course, their parents will think it wonderful: they haven’t had to hear the same lines repeated every day for the past four weeks.
What’s all the more remarkable is the joyful smile that adorns the face of the infant teacher all year round. While for the rest of us, the chance to watch the infants' dress rehearsal is a valuable 30 minutes of respite from the onslaught of the end of term, for the infant teacher this is the period of great excitement day after day as every child tells them how many sleeps remain until Father Christmas arrives.
There’s perhaps only one group I feel for more at this time of year: the families of infant teachers. They must be all Christmassed-out by the time they get to spend the day with their own loved ones.
Michael Tidd is headteacher at Medmerry Primary School in West Sussex. He tweets @MichaelT1979