Teaching: The Worst Things About Christmas Half Term

Recently, I wrote an article about the fact that this time of year is nothing short of arduous and painful for us teachers. I know it’s difficult for a lot of people at this time of year, but having done other jobs in my time, I’d definitely say it’s tougher than most places in education. I haven’t worked down a pit or anything, but I’d hope you take my point. With this point in mind, I got to thinking about the kind of things I dislike the most about my job at this time of year. And so, in no particular order and with more than a hint of sarcasm and tongue firmly tucked in cheek, here you go!

The constant question – “Can we just watch a movie?” For starters, we call them films where I’m from, so no, we can’t. However, from week 1 right the way up until the last week before Christmas, at least one of your classes will think that the time is just right for watching a film. They’ll cite the number of days until Christmas, the terrible weather and tout the blatant lie that all the other classes are watching films…anything that might just make you budge. And the cherry on top of this particular cake is that when you finally do put on a DVD – on the last day, bosses – your students will generally sit and talk through it! Well my wonderful students, I’m afraid you’ve just met DVD Scrooge and instead we’ll be doing that far more traditional English Christmas half term activity of writing lots and reading a bit. Bah humbug indeed!

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The other popular question – simply because the first question wasn’t annoying enough, students will then turn to another, genuinely more offensive question. And all in the name of Christmas. And it’ll often be the first thing they ask as they walk through the door. In fact, sometimes, as a Christmas treat, they might ask you it before lesson as you’re passing on a corridor. The question? ‘Are we doing anything fun today?’ Now there are several levels of offensiveness to this question. Firstly, is there a veiled accusation here that our lessons aren’t fun? Task-wise, I might take their point here at times. Maybe writing an analysis of how a writer creates tension isn’t that much fun in a world where we have the internet, X-Box, Love Island and erm…fidget spinners (look it’s spinning on my finger…), but we’re in an English class; what did you expect? Secondly, I try to run a relaxed ship. I like a little bit of a lighter atmosphere and a bit of a joke now and again (a bit of ‘daft carry on’ we’d call it where I’m from), so the suggestion that my lessons aren’t fun is actually a personal affront. Or maybe I’m just not that entertaining? *Dismisses such a ridiculous notion with a smug little chuckle and moves on.* And of course there’s the fact that the study of English has been pretty much a constant in my life. It was an important GCSE for me, then an A-Level, then I did it as my degree! Fun? Bloody fun? Bollocks to fun, pal. Appreciate my expertise! Feel my love for the subject! Then get your 18th analysis of the half term written up! And look forward to re-writing it, in PURPLE PEN no less once it’s marked and I’ve demanded improvements! Then, if you’re really lucky, you’ll get to write a diary entry from the point of view of one of the characters in the play we’ve been studying! Don’t worry though, I might just dress up as a clown and do some juggling for you if the fun’s really getting ramped up as well. (I won’t. Ever.)

Christmas Cards – it’s not that I don’t love getting them; I do. I think it’s a lovely traditional gesture and I always enjoy taking them home to put up round the house. However, I am utterly rotten at remembering to write my own and send them/bring them in to school to give out. Cue a cringeworthy few moments every time I get one while I meekly explain that I keep meaning to write mine, but I’m an utter shambles of a man. Cue also me rushing around on the final morning of the half term delivering my cards – if I’ve remembered to get them out, write them up and then put them in my bag – like some kind of apologetic, pathetic Christmas loser. Oh, the yearly shame!

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The final lessons before the Christmas break – it’s not the lessons themselves. They’re fine. Granted, I’m practically on my knees by this point, exhausted and steeling myself for finishing work and heading home to face the onslaught of pre-Christmas jobs that will inevitably only get finished some time mid morning on the 25th. No, it’s the fact that even though I’ve finally relented on the film question, my classes are still not satisfied with such wonderful Christmas benevolence. And why? Because my colleagues – God bless them, every one of them (to paraphrase Dickens) – have brought in snacks – snacks I tell you! – and are holding some kind of bloody party in their rooms! Well sorry kids, but ‘The Ghost of that Shit Christmas When All You Got Was Socks and Pants’ here didn’t get that memo. You know the drill…altogether now…Bah Humbug!

Christmas Jumper Day – or as I see it, the chance to look like a tw*t for a full day. That might not be everybody, by the way. Some people can look quite cool in their Christmas jumpers. Allegedly.

Can you turn the heating on?/It’s so cold! Another question that makes my internal, scarcely dormant volcano start to rumble. Not a day goes by at this time of year when I don’t have to go through my early morning in-school routine with a class. And they’re always told that the very first thing I do when I unlock the door and come into class is to put the heating on. If only they could remember. They also always fail to notice that the heating is actually on, despite the lit up display which again, is pointed out to them every day. Come in at 7.45am kids, I’ll allow my room to demonstrate cold for you! As for the fact that it’s cold; of course it’s cold. We live in northern England and our school is on the top of a great big hill; of course it’s cold!

So there you have it. The bane of my life at this time of year. Just as I’m feeling like I could sleep for a week, tweens and teens are busily digging the same old ways out in order to make all of our teaching lives just that tiny bit more stressful. Christmas can’t come soon enough!

I hope you enjoyed the blog and if you have any irritations at this time of your work year, whether you’re a teacher or not, feel free to let me know in the comments.

I’ll end on a big thankyou to the friends who got in touch to remind me of some of their own personal lowlights of teaching at this time of year in order to help with this blog. It’s late in the year, I’m tired and was flagging in the ideas department. Not for the first time the English Department at our school helped me out. I work with some truly wonderful people (although they always forget to bring me cakes and biscuits when they’ve been left in the staffroom as a reward for our hard work), so once again, cheers!

Seven Reasons Why This Grinch Loves Christmas!

I’m going to start this post by addressing a little gripe of mine. It’s about my reputation. Or at least the reputation that I feel like I’ve picked up over the years. It seems that some people – colleagues, students, even some friends and family (even my wife) – regard me as a little bit grumpy. And when I say a little bit, I just mean grumpy. Very grumpy.

Personally, I don’t think I deserve my reputation. I’m not grumpy. Not anymore than anyone else I would imagine. I’m not relentlessly happy either, but I certainly wouldn’t refer to myself as grumpy. In fact, the fact that people refer to me as grumpy simply makes me feel…well…grumpy.

I think my problem is that I’m more of a realist than some would like. Maybe even too honest, when honesty is not what people are looking for. So if someone asks how I am, while most of the time I’m happy to toe the line and tell them I’m good, there may well be other times when I’ll tell them that actually I’m really tired, or that I’m sick of work, or that I just can’t be bothered to be doing what’s asked of me – I’ll always do it though. Similarly, as a coach or at work, if something needs to be pointed out to a kid as a bit of a target I’m not afraid to let them know.

I don’t believe in relentless positivity for relentless positivity’s sake. and I don’t walk around whistling show tunes or constantly grinning. But that doesn’t make me grumpy.

I’m writing this blog the night before our last day at work before the end of term break for Christmas. Tomorrow will be Christmas jumper day, so at this point I should add that my Christmas jumper features a huge picture of The Grinch on the front. Consequently, and no doubt also because people have just got the wrong impression, it has been known for a few people to actually refer to me as The Grinch. And yes, when they joke about it and point to the image on the front, I don’t laugh. It’s not a lack of a sense of humour and it’s not being grumpy; it’s just that stating the blindingly obvious isn’t very funny. In actual fact, the joke is on those who make the joke.

So then, now we’ve shattered the illusion, it’s time to let you know why this Grinch loves Christmas. Some of the reasons are predictable and obvious and others aren’t, but here we go.

  1. Christmas films. (Or Christmas movies if your grasp of English isn’t that great or your American) Not exactly a revelation this one, eh? I mean lots of people love Christmas films., so maybe I’m stating the obvious here. Christmas films are truly special though. You only watch them at Christmas, unless you’re trying to gain a reputation as a bit of a ‘character’ and they’re about the kind of stuff that we’re all doing anyway (apart from Home Alone and Die Hard – although I’ll put it on the record right here and now that the only time I run riot in a white vest is at Christmas), but still surely everybody gets at least a bit of a warm glow when watching them. Some of them aren’t even that good, yet we’ll sit through them and maybe even get a little teary-eyed at what’s unfolding in front of us. The Polar Express is a prime example here. I have to admit that while we watch it every Christmas Eve and it’s an obviously lovely film, there are periods of that film where I’ve just lost track and it’s just dragging. It genuinely feels like a 7 hour film. But if I’m cuddled up with one of my children, maybe sipping on a hot chocolate and watching some feel-good Christmas film (it might even be The Grinch, just for the sake of irony), I’m relaxed and I’m very, very happy.
  2. Decorated Houses. Now, to be clear, I’m not one those people who has every inch of the house covered in lights and twelve foot tall Christmas figures stood in the front garden. However, there’s definitely something about houses in the street or those around us being lit up that will make me feel a lot more festive. It’s genuinely astonishing the amount of effort that some people go to and I for one appreciate it greatly. Over the past few years, largely driven by my wife, we’ve gradually built up the lights and decorations around our house. We have lights in the tree in our front garden, others in some of the shrubs and we have light up candy canes bordering the drive. Or at least we did have light up candy canes until the whole unit dropped from the box as I was putting them out this year and broke. So now we just have candy canes. They still look great though. On top of this we also have a new addition; a projector on the front lawn that casts festive images on to the front of our house. Tacky? I’m not sure, but as I park the car on the drive after a long day at work and see it all in full flow it’s a sight that gladdens my heart. And it’s another reason to believe that perhaps I’m not the Grinch after all.
  3. Squinting at the Christmas tree. Yep, you read that right. It might seem a bit weird, but it’s something I always do and it always makes me feel happy. There’s no great explanation here. When it’s night time and we have the Christmas tree lit up, I like to stare at the lights and find that if I squint a bit it makes them appear a bit bigger and brighter. I just think it’s a lovely sight. Just me? I expect so, but if you’ve never tried it then give it a go. And if you don’t like it then maybe it’s you who’s the Grinch!
  4. Giving Gifts. Firstly, let’s get this out of the way. I absolutely love getting presents. Me and my wife still spoil each other rotten at Christmas and I still find it very exciting seeing what I’ve been bought. That might seem a little bit immature, but personally I think it’s just very normal. Surely we all like opening presents? I genuinely prefer giving though and it feels like I always go over the top. We’re lucky enough to be able to treat our children well at Christmas and it’s always a lovely feeling watching them open their presents. I still get a lot of pleasure out of shopping for my wife though. We have a budget, but I think we both overspend anyway! I like planning what I’m going to buy and trying to come up with things that my wife wouldn’t suspect she’s going to get and I feel like after all of the years we’ve been together. more often than not, I get it at least reasonably right! I still, as any bloke should, make sure that I ask for gift receipts though!
  5. Family. Again, nothing too startling here. Christmas is well known as a time for family and like lots of people, I enjoy getting together with mine. I’d include friends in that as well. I’ve lived away from my home city of Newcastle since I was 23 – so a long time! I love going home though. Every Christmas we visit family and friends and it’s always fantastic. It’s nice sitting in my parents house and just chatting and it’s lovely being treat like a bit of a kid again! We usually go out for a family meal and it’s brilliant seeing my kids with their grandparents as it’s something that doesn’t happen that often. We also always visit our oldest friends in their home and again, it’s lovely just to sit and chat (we usually do a lot of festive moaning about our families and children, but that’s besides the point) and always a bit of a tragedy when you realise how late it’s got and that it’s time to head back down the motorway to home. In fact, it’s almost the final sign that Christmas has come to an end and who wants that?
  6. The Annual Trip to The Panto! Now pantomime is a particularly British tradition, so it might need a bit of explaining. Panto (or pantomime to give it its full title) is best described as a play, but with more songs, farce and general silliness! It’s an occasion for the whole family and they are always hugely popular. They often involve celebrities playing handsome princes or beautiful princesses who have got themselves into a bit of trouble. There’s always a bad guy or two, but with a bit of singing, dancing and audience participation, everything gets resolved and often the handsome prince and princess live happily ever after together. I’m sure you’ll agree that it’s a recipe for a brilliant festive night out. We’re lucky here i Yorkshire as we have one of the best pantos in Britain at the Alhambra Theatre in Bradford and for the last six or seven years we’ve gone along on the first Saturday of the Christmas holidays to watch the evening show. Over the years we’ve watched a Nolan sister, one of Steps, Christopher Biggins, Gareth Gates, a Chuckle Brother and Simon Webb of boyband Blue fame; all throwing themselves into a bit of panto fun. But they all take second place to the true star of the show, the legend that is Billy Pearce who always gets the audience shouting and singing along as well as laughing uproariously with some of the daftest jokes you’re ever likely to hear. It’s always a brilliant evening – I even enjoyed the one where I spent most of the evening in the foyer with my son who was sick all over my shoes and had to leave the auditorium in a bit of a hurry! Still, even the actual Grinch would love the panto.
  7. The Last Day of Christmas Term. As a teacher, I love the last day of any term, but the last one before Christmas always feels particularly special. It’s generally just a hugely relaxed atmosphere and there is little if any teaching attempted, with watching Christmas films being more the order of the day. It really feels like everyone is happy and with staff in Christmas jumpers and snacks galore to go around, it’s always a fantastically enjoyable day.

So there you have it. Although I might well have a reputation for being a tiny bit Grinchy, I still very much love Christmas and I’d love to hear what everyone else’s favourite parts of the most wonderful time of the year are, so let me know in the comments!

Happy Christmas everyone!

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