I have about 50 people who have sworn to be my best friend forever. Need proof? I have it in writing, signed and dated.
Tomorrow is the final day of the school year. Every school has its own last day traditions. For the pupils at the school where I served my second headship, it was a flour and egg fight in the local park. At my third school I started the tradition of the children and staff who were leaving walking through an honour guard made by the rest of the school community. Alice Cooper’s School’s Out would be blasted from the windows to accompany the final salute.
Most British schools seem to have the same tradition: signing school uniform on the final day. There were similarities in the messages with those one can find in an American year book. I use the past tense because I have noticed the messages have been changing over the past few years.
And the tradition seems to be beginning earlier. Today, our oldest pupils who will be leaving us for high school began the exercise a full 24 hours before they actually depart. All over the school, pupils could be found walking around aimlessly with a marker pen in their hand, asking each other “Sign my shirt?” Blame the fact that Christmas adverts are on the telly from Halloween.
I didn’t sign any today. Call me a traditionalist. Tomorrow is the day I sign shirts. I had the final meeting of the year with the local inspectors this afternoon and throughout the full three hours; pupils peered in through the walls of my glass box, motioning to be allowed in so I could sign a message on their back. Waving them away drew funny looks from the inspector who couldn’t see the pupils behind him.
One brave soul was so fully subscribed to the tradition that he walked straight into the meeting and held out his pen. He was swiftly dispatched with a ‘wait until tomorrow’ message. His face was the picture of disappointment. Call me a kill-joy.
The ritual of shirt signing has remained constant in my 26 years of teaching in British schools, but as aforementioned, the message text is changing.
British men specifically, but perhaps men in general, have increasingly greeted each other (in my adult life) with good-natured insults. Some would call it banter. The idea is to communicate a message that seems offensive on the surface but is delivered with respect. It is a subtle and gray area to tread so therefore it is only advisable with male peers well-known to us.
A good example was seen today; it was a message on the back of a boy’s shirt which I could decipher as he motioned through my glass box. It read ALEX- YOUR MUM IS A HORE. STAY IN TOUCH MATE, BILLY.
Now I know Alex’s mother. There is no reason to believe she is anything other than a chaste, observant and upstanding member of the community. If the family have fallen on hard times and mother has had to take up some part-time work to supplement the family income, it is unbeknown to me. What was shocking was Billy’s spelling. I was tempted to rise from the meeting with my red homework-marking-pen and correct Billy’s work:
When I got home tonight, I pulled my old high school year book down from the shelf to read some of the messages therein. I was correct in my hypothesis that the nature of the messages has changed quite significantly since I undertook the same end of term ritual. My year book is filled with scrawled writing from at least 50 persons swearing we would be best friends forever. If you are reading this blog by chance and you are one of the said persons who signed with such a message: please accept my apologies. You must think I am a terrible best friend forever (BFF). No, I haven’t kept in touch despite what I might have signed in your book. I can’t even remember if I intended to even do so at the time, back in 1980.
And to the girls who signed my year book: a question. In your professional lives do you still dot every ‘i ‘with a smiley face or a heart? Oh, and I didn’t stay ‘just as sweet as I am.” Far from it.
The rest of the messages implore me to remember long-forgotten events or inside jokes. One says, “Remember our gym class for Jesus.” I am fairly certain that Jesus was not in my gym class. In fact I am certain as sandals would not have been permitted on the hardwood floor.
So tomorrow, I will sign a few shirts, seeing as it is the final day of term. I will resist the urge to take part in any banter. That will be left to the school boys and never let it be said I don’t recognise the boundaries.
At the final bell I will stand at the gate and wave off the older pupils and wish them well for life. I will remind them that they are always welcome back to their old school. I will be singing Alice Cooper’s classic in my mind. I will be dreaming of a beach in Ibiza.
And just in case, I will wink at Alex’s mum; the old slut.
Keep the Faith,