2022 Summer Term

The know zone

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  • Nuggets of joy
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  • Keep smiling
    In search of some much-needed light relief, Gareth Burton dips into the pages of his journal which records the amusing moments from his two decades as a teacher. More
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In search of some much-needed light relief, Gareth Burton dips into the pages of his journal which records the amusing moments from his two decades as a teacher.

Keep smiling

If the past two years have highlighted anything to me, it is the importance of finding humour in the work we do – partly to keep our own sense of perspective as school and college leaders but also to lift the spirits and morale of those around us. 

Below are a couple of entries from my journal, both relating to a school I worked in much earlier in my career, which I hope put smiles on a few faces. 


The practical joke 

Tradition dictated that on their final day, Year 13 pupils plan and execute a practical joke. The entire cohort are usually in on it, but are strictly tight-lipped about it beforehand. Over the years we had a range of stunts from cling film wrapping the head of sixth form’s car to turning a senior leader’s office into a makeshift jungle – all pretty harmless fun. 

With a five-period day ahead of me, I had arrived early to mark a set of books. I was at my desk about 7:30am and witnessed the headteacher and the head of sixth form pacing the corridors, trying to identify what the sixth form pupils had prepared for this year’s jape. 

As a head of year and a fairly well-established middle leader, I popped out of my classroom to enquire whether I could help. The headteacher was so engrossed in trying to locate the joke that he didn’t respond and continued to stride down the corridor like a charged detective who had been given 30 minutes to solve a case. 

The head of sixth form turned, smiled and gestured that the mood was quickly reaching boiling point. I retreated to my desk and continued marking, wondering whether this might be the year that the tradition had ceased. 

Ten minutes later I heard what can only be described as a ‘buffalo-style’ stampede hurtling down the corridor past my classroom. 

As I raised my head I saw the headteacher, the head of sixth form and our caretaker in hot pursuit of three sheep introduced to the school the previous evening by one of our sixth-formers who lived on a nearby farm. 


The fire drill 

As a head of year, my role was to stand in front of the 180 pupils in my group looking stern-faced and ensuring that they remained in silence throughout the drill. 

As pupils lined up on one occasion, it became clear that the alarm was not the result of a fire. Word had got around that the bells had been triggered deliberately by a group who wanted to get out of a test due in the following lesson. 

My headteacher got wind of this and seized the moment to grab a megaphone and began addressing the 1,200 pupils, who were assembled in silence. 

He meant to say, “Which of you twits…?” but, in his rage, he actually said, “Which of you t**ts…?” 

I tried so hard to contain myself but I was standing in front of 180 pupils who were also trying to do the same. Despite the years between us, there was a sense of mutual support for one another in trying to keep a straight face. 

I was trapped. I couldn’t stay where I was, looking at the pupils, but, equally, I couldn’t turn around as I would be faced with the headteacher eyeballing me, completely clueless as to what had just come out of his mouth. 

Then, a flash of inspiration. I thought that if I bent down and pretended to tie my shoelace, this would give me a few seconds respite to pull myself together. I wasn’t prepared, however, for a colleague and friend choosing the exact same moment to do the same. 

We took one look at each other and burst into silent laughter – the kind of tears that you really don’t want to stop because, inside, you’re actually enjoying the moment so much. 

Gareth Burton is a Headteacher and ASCL PD consultant 

Want the last word? 

Last Word always welcomes contributions from members. If you’d like to share your humorous observations of school life, email Permjit Mann at leader@ascl.org.uk ASCL offers a modest honorarium.