Tales from the classroom: prom

In the UK, prom is a relatively new phenomenon. Much influenced by the USA, it's an extravagant tradition of a rite of passage, a chance to get hammered, and a massive retail opportunity all rolled into one. 

In my own schooldays, the prom didn't exist - or at least not for me or anyone I knew. 

Changed times 
I attended an all girls school, and our request for a disco to mark the end of school was met with an understanding from the headmistress that no boys would be present, which killed the idea stone dead pretty much immediately. 

After our exams finished - for which we had no study leave I might add - we simply returned to lessons until the end of term, even in the Upper Sixth. The concept of an early finish to the school year was unknown to us.

A teacher's view 
It has only been as a member of staff that I've attended proms. I reckon I've been to about twenty, having missed a few through things like maternity leave, not knowing that particular year group, having something else to do on the night, and so on. 

My observations over that time have been interesting, at least to me, and I suppose they form a kind of social history of a generation, and certainly a history of three decades of fashion.

These days things are very, very organised. The girls at the school where I teach have Facebook groups to ensure that nobody is wearing the same dress as anyone else, although as it doesn't include teachers, the system failed to prevent the head of history from turning up like a sinister foreshadowing of the future for one unlucky girl a couple of years ago.

Glitz and glamour 
The girls always look glamorous beyond my wildest dreams. It's our tradition to have tutor group photos taken with the form tutor and it is really quite depressing to see myself aging and expanding width-ways in every successive picture, whilst being surrounded by a bevy of beautiful girls in their prime. 

As the photos are hung in the corridor leading to the Sixth Form common room, there is no escape. It's like watching one of those slow motion films of decay and death in a biology lesson.

Lets hear it for the boys 
Though I shouldn't admit it, the boys' outfits are my favourites. Girls can look unexpectedly stunning but, by and large, you can usually imagine how they will look when dressed up more easily than boys, who don't often do the full tux job in everyday life. 


I am always so proud of my boys in their suits, especially when there's one who bucks the trend and wears something original. The Mississippi gambler look will stay in my mind for a long time, and the slightly asymmetrical collarless shirt from some impossibly trendy (and costly) shop was a masterstroke. 
Perhaps it's because I'm the mother of sons that I find the way the boys turn into men on prom night strangely moving.

Rubber chickens 
One or other of the local sports clubs has traditionally provided the venue, and we tend to rotate to avoid showing too much bias towards one side or another. 

Where I live boasts an unusually high number of very successful teams and the result is that I've seen the inside of the executive suites of more Premier League football stadiums than I ever would in other circumstances, which is totally wasted on me as a non-sports fan. 

The catering at these places is always the same – tomato soup with a sprig of basil floating in it, rubber chicken balanced on a stack of potatoes, with some form of stuffed pasta as the veggie option, and profiteroles. It's never anything else. Of course, the students only ever go to one prom. For the staff, it's like Groundhog Day.

The speech 
Once the rubber chicken has been consumed, it's the speeches. Our previous head of Sixth Form was a genius at these, never repeating himself from year to year despite the fact that only the staff would know if he did, but our new man has quite a bit to learn. 

In times gone by, there would be jokey student awards but now it's rather dry and dull, the oral version of rubber chicken in many ways. It doesn't really matter, though, because it's all about the students and what they do, not what the staff do, and that is what we don't know.


The twilight hours​ 
No member of staff leaves on the coaches with the students as they make their way into town to spend the rest of the night in some club or other. It's more than our jobs are worth. The official line is that we keep well away, since we would still be considered in a position of responsibility in the event of an accident, despite the vast majority of students being over eighteen. 

The kind of accidents likely to happen to a crowd of 150 inebriated eighteen year olds can be imagined with little effort, so it's an easy command to obey. It's their night, in any case, and fond though we are of them and (for the most part) they of us, it's time for the parting of the ways.

Once in a lifetime? 
For students, proms are a once in a lifetime event, recorded, remembered and rehashed as a (usually) happy memory between friends who may remain so for life. For staff, it's a farewell forever, often to pupils who have almost become friends, who will always be special and recalled fondly. 

However, sad though that sounds, for teachers prom night is also Groundhog Day. There is, alas, always another rubber chicken waiting for us next year.

Mrs Kinetta is a secondary school English teacher who writes for The Student Room under a pseudonym. 

Image of chicken and students in prom used courtesy of Krista and AdamKR respectively via Flickr under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic licence. Image cropped and resized.