A Lesson in the Spirit of Christmas
I moved to London with trepidation. I was apprehensive because London was big and impersonal and your neighbours didn’t speak to you. I needed a job to give me company and friends, as well as money.
So I jumped at the first post that came along. The school was a huge, unwieldy merger of sec mod and grammar. It was on a split site which straddled the main road to the airport. We were under the flight path. To get between sites you had to trail across a footbridge and walk up the road past a pub and parade of shops. Pupils and staff shuttled between sites throughout the day.
When I went to the briefing for new staff on the first day there were thirty of us, thirty out of a full staff of around a hundred. That gives you some idea of the attrition rate. The unspoken policy for departmental allocation of classes was to offload as many of the worst groups as possible onto the new staff.
To give you an idea of its awfulness, when I had to go into hospital I remember thinking to myself as I was wheeled into the operating theatre “At least this is not as bad as teaching 4R.”
But relationships with groups are like relationships with people, sometimes something just clicks. And when it came to my own form, the notorious 5R, we just clicked.
When it came to Christmas, therefore, I did what I had always done in Primary. At morning registration I gave everybody a Christmas card and a mini Mars bar wrapped up in Christmas paper. (It had to be morning because people tended to vanish in the course of the day). They were almost stunned into silence with gratitude.
“Miss, nobody’s ever done this before!” whispered one great hulking lad, “Not since we were little!”
This was followed by mutterings of consternation and plotting until the bell went.
At afternoon registration they were all there (an unusual event). One of them shuffled self-consciously forward with a festive mini market carrier bag. They had got me a present. In the bag was a gift pack of something smelly from the chemists on the parade and a pack of 200 cigarettes.
At afternoon break I took my trophy to the staff room.
“You’ll have to give the fags back,” said Ron without looking up from his newspaper. “Have they got a health warning?”
I checked. They hadn’t.
“Nicked from the airport,” Ron offered in explanation. “Can’t accept stolen property!”
So I told my form that I couldn’t take their kind present. It was too generous. Teachers weren’t allowed to have expensive gifts.
They accepted this with equanimity.
I’m sure they could find the cigarettes a good home, and at the very least they could feel they had truly honoured the Spirit of Christmas.