The trouble with schools situated in new buildings is that you’re unlikely to meet a ghost. Or are you . . .
This used to be the time of year that I dreaded most. The time when I would lose control of everything. Just as we crawled on our hands and knees towards the end of November (which I believe most teachers would agree is the hardest time of year), those little jingle bells would start to creep in. I likened my behaviour at this time of the year to the boy who sticks his finger in the dike to stop the sea flooding in; the holes would keep appearing. In our case it was school Christmas festivities. The thought would fill me with horror
I was thinking about this as I left the school last week on the last day of a term. It had fizzled out without so much as a shared tub of Quality Street (forbidden in case we spread the virus) and I was puzzled as to why I was feeling down. Surely this was the end of term I wanted?
As I settled in to begin a long melancholy drive home, I looked in my rear mirror as normal and leapt in fright when I saw ghostly sad face staring back at me. “Don’t mind me, I’m just the School Spirit of Christmas Past.” Without further ado the spirit waved at the mirror and it presented to me the following picture:
To gain the full effect please read the following account at top speed. . .
Help! A member of staff has just asked permission to leave the site to go and fetch the school Christmas tree – CHRISTMAS TREE???!!! To think, we’ve had such a such a nice term, all our good work will fly out the window as we descend merrily into Christmas madness, all due to the arrival of that dreaded tree. It’ll begin with the cards; a trickle at first and we’ll all be lulled into a false sense of security, as we think how nice it is to see a few year 7s passing them pleasantly to each other in the corridors. But oh how wrong we’ll be . . .
“Why are you out of class?”
“Oh I’m just going to give my friend/Miss X a card”. Multiply this by 1000.
Meanwhile the rehearsals for the Christmas concert will be in full swing.
“Why are you out of class?”
“Oh, I’m just going to rehearsals”. Or – “Oh I’ve just come back from rehearsals”
And what do I do about cards for staff? Do I buy everyone a card? Did I do it last year? Yes I did!! Will they expect me to do it again this year? It’ll set a precedent, I’ll have to keep forever more. And there’s bound to be a member of staff who suggests that we don’t give cards to anyone and instead will put a big card in the staff room for us all to sign and ask us donate to a charity rather than send cards. But I like cards, and want to give people personal messages . . . Arrrrrgh!! What about the cards we send to the community? Where do I draw the line? Local primary schools? Secondary schools? All schools in Cardiff? Wales? Neighbours? Every business we’ve ever worked with? Every member of the council? All the community groups? The Welsh Assembly? Estyn? What part of the budget will I rob to pay for them?
Does Reception really have to play the Michael Bublé Christmas album from December 1st onwards? If I hear it being played once more, I’m going to burn it in tomorrow’s assembly in front of everyone.
Do I tell the teacher on December 4th that it’s too early for the Christmas tie?
“Sorry but the reindeer antlers are just not part of the school uniform”
“Did you really go out and spend good money on matching Christmas mug and bauble earrings?”
“I don’t care which one of you is Santa at the Christmas Fayre, I just want you back in your rooms teaching your classes”.
“Excuse me Mr Globe why are you playing that Hunger Games DVD to your year 8 Geography class?”
“Well, you see Mr Di-Finizio there are some really good examples of extreme weather conditions which are really relevant to the what the pupils are studying”
“Back to normal lessons please, it’s only December 10th”.
“Excuse me Miss Gladiator why are you playing that Black Adder DVD to your Year 10 History class?
“Well you see Mr Di-Finizio it presents such a realistic portrayal of Elizabethan London”
“Back to normal lessons please, it’s still only December 11th”.
Which Primary schools will we invite to our dress rehearsals for the concert, there are too many to invite them all, will the others take offence if not invited? On the day of the concert, once we’ve recovered from a day where every pupil manages to claim they have some part in the concert, will I remember to thank everyone involved at the end? I’ll miss someone and I’ll be made to remember it for the rest of the year. And will I remember to tell my wife I’ll be home late that night.
Just when I’m reading the seventh reminder to write my page for the end of term newsletter for parents, the person with the ridiculous tie will rush in to tell me that it’s tradition for the Headteacher to serve the turkey at the pupil’s Christmas lunch. “There’s a 1000 pupils waiting Mr Di-Finizio, quick put on these reindeer antlers”, he’ll say with smile that betrays a slight hint of revenge (I had ended up telling him to lose the tie). And 400 servings of turkey later I’ll remember, it’s my wife’s birthday the next day (why does it always have to fall right in the middle of all this) and I’ve organised nothing. And the merry Christmas smile will have to stay on my face, while I wonder how I’ll manage to get to a
shop tonight, knowing I’ll be late leaving, due to one of the evening Christmas events I’ll have to attend.
Do I go on the staff night out or not? They surely don’t want me there, or do they? Go for a short while and show I’m not just an old grump who walks into classrooms unannounced, or go for a bit longer, inevitably ending up losing any semblance of respect they ever held for me?
Only one day left and I still haven’t got anything for my colleagues in the senior team? It’ll be something from a supermarket on the way home. Last day – assemblies, various tutor group Christmas parties where rooms are left in carnage and someone in hysterics because because I still haven’t written the newsletter. Almost there – the farewell to staff and leaving speeches, where at least one person will be missed out. Last minute Christmas emails to all the schools and other groups that sent cards, but who we’re not on our final list and then make my way to the door, flinching involuntary as I pass the tree. Finally, home to the family and it starts all over again.
“Okay” I said to the spirit, “it’s all a bit of humbug on my part I accept that, but as a Head I would pick myself up off the ground at the end of November and force myself to smile and join in the fun. I enjoyed it really, honest I did”
“Hmmm, did you?” The spirit replied as it faded away.
I was obviously shocked and just as my hand was reaching for the secret stash of wine gums in the glove compartment, another spirit appeared in the mirror. This one didn’t need any introductions. It’s self-satisfied smile said it all. Without hesitation I jumped out of the car, opened the back door and dragged the startled spirit out.
“Don’t even start”, I shouted at the now cringing creature on the ground. “I don’t need you here, with your vague facts that change by the day and your exaggerated, misleading media headlines that terrify governments across the world to act in ridiculously senseless ways. Just leave here for good.” The spirit began to lift itself up and started to back off. The pent up rage and frustration I had felt for the past nine months was coming out and I began to chase the spirit out of the carpark and down the road.
“Go on run” I called, “and go and do something useful like shaming the UK Government who has spent around £250billilon on this virus. Shame them into rebuilding the health service that it has never funded or staffed adequately to cope with the flu epidemics that cause tens of thousands of deaths each winter. Why did they allow an 80,000 shortfall in employees to build before this all started? Tell them to raise NHS salaries, the money seems to have been there all along.
Come back when you can tell me how I am meant to continue coping with the increase in child protection cases this year (double the amount it was last year) and how I can explain in a professional way, to those pupils who beg not to have to go home and isolate, that they will have to leave school and go home.
And take your lockdowns and variants of the virus with you. Its endemic now so your lockdowns are having little effect and some say they actually prevent a natural weakening of the virus. And there have been loads of variants, all of them less deadly as the virus mutates downwards like viruses tend to do. Concentrate on those who need protecting just like they do every winter.
And while you’re at it, go to the Governments in this country and ask them ‘why?’ Just why, that’s all you need to ask because I am so, so confused!!”
By this time the spirit had ran all the way to estuary and it didn’t stop. It just carried on and sank into the deep waters, disappearing from view. I didn’t move for quite a while as I wated to see if it would surface. It never did. As I turned to make my way back to the car, I was faced with another spirit. This one grinned and gave me the thumbs up before walking off smiling.
As I made my way back to the car, I had a light skip in my step. I would forevermore enjoy every minute of Christmas festivities and never take them from granted. And I knew with certainty that 2021 would be a good one.
Best wishes to everyone and here’s hoping for a wonderful New Year.
4 thoughts on “The School Spirits of Christmas”
Some great words for all managers to relate to there Armando, it’s been a challenging year for all sectors and industries and I don’t envy what you and other education providers have had to deal with in managing staff and pupils in the safe environment required.
Have a great Christmas, raise a glass to the end of 2020 and a deep breath and step forward for 2021 and what that can hit you with! 🍻🍻
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Thanks Paul. Best wishes, the glass is already raised
Wow you have a real legacy of commentary now . It will be a great resource to look back on . I’ll come to your lecture tour
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Always good to read your blogs Armando, and this one was no exception!
I hope you find time to switch off this Christmas and come back feeling ready for whatever 2021 brings.