New Year’s Eve is not the time for resolutions

31 Dec 2012 @ 12.52 pm
| Opinion

Have a cracking party to herald 2013 – but this isn’t the moment for life-changing decisions, says John Tomsett

This year we recreated New Year’s Eve on Friday December 7.

It’s one of my favourite assemblies for our Year 11 students (that’s fifth years in old money!); I learnt it from a colleague years ago, and this is what I do…

Before the students arrive I place a number of blowouts and whistles on seats around the hall. As the students file in I hand out forty-odd party poppers; confusion on their faces greets my instruction to let them off at midnight!

Once all 240 of them are seated, I ask them to imagine it’s New Year’s Eve, at about a minute to midnight. I get them all to stand and treat the front row to plastic champagne flutes filled with fizzy cordial, announcing flamboyantly that it’s the real deal.

Suddenly the lights die and on the huge screen appears video footage of Big Ben and the countdown to New Year in London. All of us chant, “Ten, nine, eight…” and when we get to the magic moment, the poppers crack off, the blowouts trumpet out, and the champagne is drunk. What’s more, I and another teacher launch two full tins of Cadbury’s Celebrations into the crowd like it’s raining chocolate!

The London fireworks move seamlessly into Jools Holland’s annual Hootenanny and we all sing Auld Lang Syne. I encourage lots of hugging and kissing (this year I think I gave Ian, my co-launcher of the Celebrations tins, a smacker!) and it could easily be just gone midnight on January 1. To be frank, I’ve had more fun during the recreation assemblies than I’ve had at many a New Year’s party proper!

Even Jools Holland and his Hootenanny made an appearance. Photograph: BBC

And what, you may ask, when the fuss dies down, is the point of that assembly? What’s the moral message? How can showering students in chocolate and encouraging them to guzzle fake champers be at all educational? Well, it’s about what else we do in those first few minutes of the New Year – those dreaded New Year’s resolutions.

The thing with assemblies is trying to find a way to make them memorable. I can only remember one from my secondary school days – when Bishop Peter Ball of Lewes popped up and told us to be careful of what we wanted in life because we’ll more than likely get it. I have little idea why I remember such a random assembly, other than it wasn’t the headteacher droning on.

So, I make the huge effort to recreate New Year’s Eve in the hope that one or two of the 240 students might remember the assembly and so recall my main message – that you don’t have to wait until New Year’s Eve to make a resolution to change the way you live your life.

To be honest, I never make New Year’s resolutions. It’s a bit of a nonsense really, when you think about it. No, looking back, there have been very few moments when I have deliberately chosen to change my life significantly, and, of those very few, none occurred in the first minutes of January.

At 9.55pm on August 28, 1982, I was offered a part-time job in the Maiden’s Head pub in Uckfield by Cliff the barman. Uckfield has two claims to fame: it was the last place Lord Lucan was seen alive and it was once an answer on Blockbusters.

After two ultimately frustrating years trying to be the next big thing in the golfing world, I faced the mind-numbing obscurity of working in the local boozer. It was at that moment, 9.55pm on August 28, 1982, I decided to visit Ron Hunt, the deputy headteacher who chucked me out of the sixth form, and ask him to have me back.

Ron Hunt was kind. Returning to my old school, when all my mates had departed earlier that summer, was a huge step for me. I had originally chosen biology, chemistry and mathematics A levels; two years on the sciences were a distant memory, but I have always been numerate so stuck with mathematics, chose economics because you didn’t need the O level to begin the A level, and, just as a third choice, gambled on English.

I’m now in my 25th year as an English teacher.

That experience taught me many things. As a consequence of not getting it all right first time round myself, I have a lot of time for those students who struggle to stay engaged and follow the traditional route through their teens; examinations seem to come along just when there are so many more attractive things in life! And, of course, it taught me that you don’t have to wait until New Year’s Eve to make a life-changing resolution.

Whether any of my students will remember that message I guess I’ll never know; the influence you have as a teacher is impossible to gauge in the here and now. I do know that we had a load of fun in that school hall a month ago and I have to believe that there is now a chance at least one of those youngsters emerging into adulthood will resolve to change his or her life without waiting until New Year’s Eve!

Here’s to a fruitful 2013 – go heavy on the fun and light on the untimely resolutions!