Memories of Christmas in school are a melting pot of those from my childhood in the ‘60s and ‘70s, from 25+ years teaching in primary schools and from the experience of being a mother. Meaning that I’ve inflicted on others – and in turn have had inflicted upon myself – the obligatory ‘Christmas crafts’ that’ve featured in the Primary Autumn curriculum since the dawn of time. (And, indeed, have been that child sobbing hysterically over the painting in her hand which she knows isn’t hers, whilst hers, she can see, is being handed by a smiling Tracy L to her mummy!)
The weeks from October half-term up to Christmas are (largely) a magical time from a child’s point of view, but hard work and pressure for school staff, with lots of ‘must do’ activities to fit into dark, cold weeks of indoor playtimes, with children who are becoming more and more hyped up and uncontrollable as the term goes on.
From the outside it looks all glitter, fun, sing-alongs and Disney films on the interactive whiteboard. In reality, those needlework calendars and pva-ed Christmas cards handed lovingly to parents on the last day of term require steely grit and military-level organisation to bring about.
First you need a design that 30-plus children of mixed artistic and fine-motor-skill ability can manage with minimal support and for which, more importantly, there are materials in the stock cupboard. ‘What do you mean Miss Adcock’s been hoarding all the silver card in her classroom since April?’
Then classroom support needs rejigging to cover costume-making for the concert, sewing for the calendar, cutting, sticking and glittering for cards and decorations and scenery, and general ‘finishing off.’ Young David may well have missed most of term with gastro enteritis, but he’ll need to hand his parents a pop-up Three Wise Men Christmas card, just like everyone else!
‘Have you finished already, Priya? Then nip down to Miss Adcock and ask if she’s any spare calendar tabs. There were enough for every class but we seem to be short.’
And all whilst delivering the usual run of lessons – and maths catch-ups and phonics interventions and making sure every child in the classroom has changed their book before the holiday.
That’s without even mentioning rehearsing the Nativity. ‘Whose turn is it this year? Are you sure? It only seems five minutes since I had the pleasure last.’
And don’t get me started on the Christmas post box in the foyer, and whose class’s turn it is to empty it today. And why exactly the student in Class 3 thought it a good idea to send the noisiest children in school round with the cards right now, just as everyone’s settled and focused and listening to me so I can begin Literacy …]
Christmas in school – bah humbug, you say? No, I loved every minute of it – well, everything but the crushing exhaustion. Supply teaching in recent years meant the best of both worlds, though – the fun and excitement of childhood-wonder at Christmastime without the relentless hours. This year, Covid has stopped me working on supply and whilst exciting creative opportunities have arrived in its place, I have missed that interaction with children.
It remains to be seen whether, post-vaccination, I will go back into schools or whether I choose this as the point to stop mainstream teaching forever and trust the creative stuff will grow enough to fill the gap in income. But I guess only the ‘ghost of Christmas yet to come’ would know the answer to that one! Fingers crossed he reveals it soon, before I need to decide.