Leader magazineASCL - Association of School and College Leaders

Term of endearment?


A new academic year needs its first-day rituals, says Catherine Szabo - like playing jargon bingo and embarrassing new colleagues.

And so a new term begins. There is a mix of emotions as friendships are renewed, tales of holiday disasters shared and the raw tangible fear of the newly qualified teachers hits the already charged staffroom.

New staff look bewildered even after the induction day, where the 'people search' icebreaker enabled them to find a friend who liked eggs or who had been to Las Vegas. What more do you need to start your new school?

We all file into the hall to hear the "Are you being served?" speech from the head. You know the one: "You've all done very well!" Then the chair of governors is brought on to give his thanks for the best exam results ever! (Again.) Some of the younger teachers are slightly worried as they thought he was a new member of staff and told him a few of their tricks - how to avoid cover and get a free lunch. The chair of governors eyes them suspiciously which leads to some uncomfortable twitching and shuffling.

The head delivers his thoughts on the exam results and shares his vision for the school. We all listen intently making promises to ourselves that we will be more efficient this year. Books will be marked more often. Quality homework will be set. Learning objectives will be shared with the pupils. We won't raise our voices. And restorative justice will be at the forefront of our minds.

The new assistant headteacher starts her presentation. All eyes are on her to see how successful she will be in persuading her audience that using data really is the way to achieving personal satisfaction. She is delighted that staff seem to be taking copious notes. All heads are down, listening intently. An excellent start!

The bubble is burst however when one of her (unsuccessful) fellow interviewees explains that the staff were playing jargon bingo and Neil Standish had a bonus for getting all 20 of his words before the tenth Powerpoint slide. She smiles but can't quite disguise the fact that she doesn't get the joke.

New staff are introduced and made to go through the excruciatingly embarrassing ritual of standing up and addressing the assembled throng. Everyone has endured the ceremony so in the tradition of "didn't do me any harm" it is greeted with salivating anticipation in the hope that someone will match the gaff made by Bill Simmons several years ago.

When answering the question "What do you do to relax?" he said, "Playing with myself". He meant to say, "Playing the piano" but nerves and the beady eyes of his colleagues reduced him to a gibbering wreck. Needless to say, that start of term was never forgotten and "doing a Simmons" is now part of staff folklore.

The ordeal over, we return to the comfort of our faculty meetings. The paper circulated results in audible groans from the array of acronyms. What do we think about the Level 2 Btecs? How do we anticipate using BfL in all our lessons? Will the CATS disturb the second week? Do the CLA and MEG groups have good enough VA on their GCSEs? How will CPD impact on our PM outcomes? How can we use our TLR holders to complete the TPR? There's a great competition on designing alternative meanings. Entries to the box in the staff room before break.

The queue for tea and coffee stretches along the corridor. The kitchen staff ensure that everyone has exactly the drink they want at the right temperature and allows everyone to choose their own sticky bun. Cherries are then compared. Much guffawing over the start of term joke, "Do you want my cherry?" Will they ever tire of this?

The ladies gather in the corner to exchange holiday stories. Sunburn. Windburn. Waterlogged feet. Clean cupboards. Stroppy husbands. Bored children. All discussed in half sentences as we all know what happens next. Glad to be back? You betcha!

The first outing of the academic year is discussed. Meal and pub or lots of drinks? Don't mind really - as long as it is just us: the Mothers In Need of Girly Excitement. Now there's an acronym!

Catherine Szabo is assistant head at a school in the south west.

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