The Staff Room: An insight into education in the district written by Catherine Jackson

Catherine Jackson from Badsworth. New columist for the Pontefract and Castleford Express.'p307a436
Catherine Jackson from Badsworth. New columist for the Pontefract and Castleford Express.'p307a436
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So Halloween and Bonfire Night have been and gone, and are a distant memory.

The nights have drawn in, the mornings are miserably dark. I’m one of many people at this time of the year, who don’t bother to pull the curtains back during the working week.

All this though, means that the next few weeks will be over in the blink of an eye and the holidays will be upon us before we know it.

While there are some elements, I have to confess, that I’m not too keen on – shopping, trying to park in over-full car parks, and food (the preparation of it at any rate) – I really enjoy the run up to these holidays in particular as a teacher.

‘‘Bah! Humbug!’’ said Scrooge in A Christmas Carol, and I am sure some may still feel like that. I’m not sure many would go as far as Scrooge, though when he said “every idiot who goes about with ‘Merry Christmas’ on his lips, should be boiled with his own pudding and buried with a stake of holly through his heart. He should.”

I think this may be just a little excessive! There’s something about the excitement of the whole card-giving process for the children and the darker afternoons, the sparkles of dropped tinsel and glitter, along with the decorated dining rooms and fairy lights, the Christmas parties and carol concert rehearsals…I defy any teacher, even the most hardened, Scrooge-like, long in the tooth and curmudgeonly…not to sense something of the thrill and anticipation felt by the pupils.

There’s no doubt, they are utterly exhausting, these last few weeks before the end of term. Most teachers, and in fact pupils, are just about on their knees, but there’s a different feel from the whole of the rest of the year. Nearly all children, from the youngest to the oldest in school enjoy the end of this term.

Maybe it’s the availability of chocolate on a fairly free-flowing basis, or the easing up in work expected from the younger pupils, or the ‘more enjoyable’ or seasonal work. Maybe it brings back happy memories for the children or even staff, or creates whole new ones.

The carol concert is the same format every year. The school Christmas dinner is the same every year. But it’s always a surprise to see which members of staff and which children will wear the cracker party hats after the Christmas dinner and who will keep them on for the longest time. It’s tradition, and that, along with expectation is a big part of what makes it all exciting.

While the odd member of staff may mutter about discipline and behaviour, many others will wear embarrassingly awful ties, or socks, earrings or Christmas jumpers.

It’s a time of year, and maybe the only one, where children almost admire the embarrassing – the more embarrassing, the better!

As a parent I can say with a degree of relief, that at least I’m past the round of nativity plays. My own children never achieved the dizzy heights of anything spectacularly monumental – with the exception of one child playing Camel Three one year.

Now we’ve almost finished the season of school productions and end of term plays, where after much stress and anxiety from a whole range of staff – drama teachers certainly, but also those involved with props, art and staging, wardrobe and costumes, lighting, sound and stage managing – finally we get to see pupils excelling in areas other than the academic and working together with, really, I suppose, true Christmas spirit.

Yes, they may be shattered, and grumpy at the end of it all, but they have all been a part of something utterly wonderful which creates lasting memories.

Despite all this it’s interesting that all the seasonal cheer circles around Christmas.

Schools are made up of so many different religions and cultural backgrounds, with agnostics and atheists thrown in for good measure. It’s the idea of tradition that’s important – a sense of marking another phase in life reached and celebrated together.

So we’ll have all the school choirs and orchestras, concerts, singing and readings, a smattering of teenagers singing too loudly and irreverently in the carol services.

We’ll have words of wisdom from the head and be dismissed into the glorious holiday weeks where we re-boot for the exam season in January.

All we need now, to make it just perfect, is snow!