Ah, the end of the year. In your diary for the last two days of school there is nothing but empty space, apart from a tiny entry marking out a final school assembly. There is no more data, no more reports, no more planning or marking to do. Yes, this is the wind down you’ve been waiting for: the holiday can almost start here.
But for some reason, the activities that apparently must make up the last days of a primary school year, as pre-determined by some higher power, do not ever result in the relaxing fade out to the academic year that you would hope for.
Trying to find out why the end of the year has to end this way is like trying to find out why the universe was created or why there are wasps or why Bruce Forsyth still commands prime time television space. There is no one who has an answer but we all just seem to accept it; happy that it’s just the way it is.
And so, the last day of the year begins…
Presumably the theory behind ‘toy day’ was that it would allow the children to be preoccupied with the making of their own fun (with no input or resources from the teacher) and this would allow the teacher to a) sleep; b) tidy their cupboard; c) sleep at the back of their tidy cupboard. But it never works out like that does it?
Children are incapable of playing a board game from start to finish; they insist on bringing in their most flimsiest toys so you spend half your time pissing about with sticky-tape and re-shaping bent bits of plastic; or worst of all they actually want you to join in with a game of ‘Doctor Who Uno’. Unfortunately, explaining to a 7 year old that the point of toy day is to minimise teacher/child interactions is harder than explaining grid multiplication: so you inevitably end up playing a game which neither you or them know the rules to and when you try to explain to them how their game is actually meant to be played they quickly lose interest, leave you to go and find the robotic puppy that has just simulated urinating in your book corner, resulting in you packing their game away.
By break time you realise that toy ‘day’ is not working and it may have to turn into toy ‘hour’. Luckily they all brought in their pirated DVD collection and after you have excluded the films that are either still playing in cinemas or may contain scenes of nudity, violent images, explicit sexual swear words and scenes of mild peril, you take a class vote. And as they are only 7 year olds and have no taste in films, ‘The Princess Bride’, ‘Labyrinth’ and ‘The wind in the willows’ are rejected in favour of ‘The Smurfs’ or ‘Alvin & the Chipmunks: the squeakquel’. Still, their choice…put it on and that should be 90 minutes of down-time for you.
Ten minutes in and you realise that this may not be the case as you remember that no child can remain silent during a film especially those that have seen it, who cannot keep complex plot points to themselves. Also, no matter how loud and fast a film is, even 7 year olds get bored by the celluloid equivalent of a pile of excrement in a bag. So your time is spent shouting “be quiet!” and growling “just enjoy the film.” Forty minutes in and when you see that only the owner of the DVD is actually watching you decide to stop the film and hope that tidying up will get you through to lunchtime.
With any luck lunchtime will be extended leaving you with half an afternoon to fill. As they come back into class you try some negotiation: “we’ll play one class game then you can tidy your drawers: if you do that quickly, we’ll play another class game and then maybe, MAYBE, I’ll let you play with your toys again while we finish watching ‘Cats and dogs 2: the revenge of Kitty Galore’” They accept your terms and you play a quick round of ‘heads down, thumbs up’ a game so pointless and inane it makes ‘sleeping lions’ look like an advanced version of chess. Then it’s time for them to tidy their drawers.
For the next thirty minutes the classroom is turned upside down as old and forgotten homeworks, spellings and Tudor worksheets are found, evaluated and binned. Your time is spent shouting things like: “I don’t want anything left-it’s all taken home or put in the bin”. Despite this every child, will at least once, come up to you holding some crumpled half-finished science investigation asking “What about this?” You try and look as if you are seriously considering taking it off their hands to put it in your special file of outstanding achievement ready for the next Ofsted before tentatively asking: “Do you want it?” to which they instantly reply in the negative leaving you to suggest that if they don’t think their parents would want it either, they should put it in the recycling bin.
Once all the drawers are emptied, the recycling bin has been filled three times over, and half the school library books are now piled on your desk you decide to sit them down to give them an end of year talk. You explain how great they have been, how hard they have worked and how much you will genuinely miss them next year. Suddenly there is a lump in your throat as you realise that all these little faces will no longer be looking up at you next year. As you stare at the photos of them that you took at the beginning of the year for your class contract you are reminded of just how much they have grown in their time with you. It has been a great year and it feels strange that a different adult will be at the centre of their school universe next year. Luckily, before you start crying one of them says that this is all lovely but you had promised they could play with their toys again; and so with thirty minutes of the school year left, you agree to let them trash the classroom one more time.