First day nerves – and why I will be getting up early tomorrow.

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Tomorrow I start a new job. I am nervous and a little worried about arriving on time. I am a very punctual person by nature and hate to be late to anything, maybe I was just well bought up, or maybe I am scared that everybody will talk about me if I’m not there. Paranoia is a great motivator.

Anyway, I have good reason to be apprehensive about my arrival time;

When I got my first teaching post it was in the East End of London. It was not an area I was familiar with. I had lived in South London for nearly a year previously, but anybody who knows London will agree that I might as well have been moving to a different country.

I was so worried about how I would get to work that I set aside a day of half term to practise my route to work (2 minute walk, bus, tube for 4 stops, another bus, 2 minute walk) I made sure I knew which bus numbers I had to get, what time, which underground platform, which bus stops – I was thorough and well prepared.

On my first morning I stood at the correct bus stop, at the correct time, and watched as not one but two buses went straight past the stop, too full to take on any more passengers. I did squeeze onto the third bus, but the knock-on effect meant I was very late for work, arriving just after the children.

I got through that first day (once I had arrived) and finished  with a warm feeling of satisfaction having made it to the end, not lost any pupils or made any major gaffes, not collapsing into a heap of uncontrollable tears and snot because I didn’t know what to do – I was a teacher!

I sat in the staff room and lit a celebratory end of the day cigarette. (Don’t judge me, things were different in those days.) As I exhaled Maureen, the Deputy,  put her head around the door. She looked directly at me with a glare that I would come to know over the following years, a glare that could reduce grown men to tears – never mind what it did to the children.

I thought she was going to ask how the day went, congratulate me on surviving, and offer some hints or tips to help further my development as a teacher. Yeah right;

“Are you coming back tomorrow?”

Me – “Er yes..”

“Well let someone know what time you think you’re thinking of turning up, it helps.”

I flapped my mouth silently at the empty doorway, then went home and set my alarm an hour earlier.

Taking the p*ss too….

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This is a sequel to a previous post called ‘taking the p*ss’

As explained in that post we were regularly mopping out the nursery toilets due to the carelessness, inexperience and sheer  exuberance of the children we worked with. After the previous incident we were rightly suspicious of all the boys and tried to monitor their comings and goings to identify the mysterious floor wetter.

We had no luck for several weeks, in spite of our detailed surveillance operation, and were fed up with having to swab the decks at regular intervals. It gradually dawned on us that, unlikely as it may seem, it might be the girls!

A new observation regime was implemented that involved checking every child in and out of the loo (without impeding their dignity, self-respect or human rights obviously.)

The result, when it came was most unexpected. My nursery nurse tracked three girls, all bestest of best friends, into the toilet cubicles. Once in they all piled into the same cubicle and tried to use the same toilet simultaneously. The result was as wet and messy as you would expect.

Mystery solved, now we just had to figure out how to stop them doing it without upsetting the delicate balance of their friendship.

What did you and your best friend used to get up to – and is it repeatable?

The mouths of babes.

Whilst writing my previous post I was reminded of another incident from the long ago time when inspectors were people you knew.

This time it was not my class, it was my wife’s class of 5 and 6 year olds who were being visited by our local Early Years inspector. These inspections were always kind of a big deal as the inspector was a nationally recognised authority on Early Years education and nobody wanted to meet her disapproval.

However, the visit went well, the children were engaged meaningfully, the session went smoothly and the staff all knew what they were supposed to be doing – so far so good. Then it was time for the chat with the teacher after the premises and people had been examined.

Had I mentioned that the inspector was quite a large lady? What we in Nursery circles call a Mrs Comfylap.

My wife asked one of the children if they could bring over a chair for the inspector to sit on please.

The child looked at the inspector, raised an eyebrow, looked back and announced in a loud clear voice;

“I think she’ll need two miss!”

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Taking the p*ss

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When you are in London you are never more than 5 feet away from a rat – Or so it is said. Similarly, when you are in a nursery class you are never more than 5 minutes away from a puddle. Spillages around the water tray, spilt drinks, taps left running and the unfortunate (but inevitable) results of children deciding to share toilet cubicles. Then of course there is the plain old, straight forward ‘accident’ from children who are not yet quite sure when to go, how to go, where to go or sometimes, why they should even bother to go in any particular place.

A lot of time and effort goes into making sure the floor is kept dry and not permanently awash with various fluids. Also that parents are supported in helping their children develop the skills they need to function in society when they get older.

To non-initiates this either sounds:

ridiculously easy – ‘how hard can it be?’

or

hellishly hard – ‘seriously though, how do you do that?’

One of the little girls I taught was wetting herself daily, in spite of the fact that she was completely toilet trained at home, and had been for some time. We kept having to put her into our spare nursery underwear, the ones with ‘nursery’ written across them with indelible marker pen so we would get them back.

Eventually, after some detective work, she confessed that she was doing it deliberately – so she could wear the special ‘nursery pants’. If only all problems were so easily solved, we wrote ‘nursery’ on her pants with a felt tip pen and the problem stopped.

Then there was the boy who could not get a grip on things – literally. He just stood with his hands on his hips and let things take their course, spraying around like an unattended hose. We worked long and hard on resolving this, although I suspect that as he is now a fully grown adult male he probably still does it from time to time after the pub.

One morning he came over to me and proffered the front of his joggers, “feel that” he commanded.

Unthinkingly I took a hold as I asked “Why?”

“I’ve wet myself !” he said taking my now soggy hand and leading me towards the spare clothes cupboard.

Creepy looking penguins and chocolate

It was the last day of term this week, and all the 8 year olds I have been attempting to teach have been flagging. They have wilted in the hot weather, become fractious once again and needed some gentle coaxing into this last, final stretch.

On the last day many of them turned up with cards and gifts as is traditional/mandatory in schools in the UK. The cards contained many heartfelt and heartwarming messages from children and parents who have enjoyed the term and wished to express their appreciation. Very flattering, I approve most heartily of anything that makes me feel good about myself.

I also received a number of gifts;

  • a bottle of wine – nice
  • some beers – very nice
  • skittles – brilliant
  • a mug that says ‘worlds greatest teacher’ – only right and proper
  • a key ring that agreed
  • a bookmark – useful
  • a penguin made from loom bands – not instantly recognisable and a bit creepy looking, but clearly the result of a great deal of time and effort from someone who wanted to make me something very special indeed

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and many, many, many boxes of chocolates.

As I opened the sixth box, carefully removing the wrapping paper, acting surprised and declaring a cheery “goodness gracious, MORE chocolates, I am going to have a great summer!” I looked down. One of my students was sitting directly in front of me, he always does, because sometimes he needs to be there, just because – you know.

As I glanced down he slowly shook his head and said in a loud clear voice he had never used in class before; “type one diabetes, sir” and then, with a final sad glance went back to trying to steal the hat of the boy on the next table to him.

Bully boy

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I am not proud of this. I am in fact ashamed of what I am about to recount. I am not writing it to try and get some kind of absolution or forgiveness, no excuses, I made my own choices and I will not try to make light of my actions.

 

I was a bully at school. This was not a full-time occupation, mostly I got along with people I liked, ignored those that I didn’t and was too busy to care less about whether or not other people liked me. I was not a model student; homework was often neglected, I was caned on more than one occasion, I skipped school occasionally and once told a member of staff I was a twin (it was a big school, she believed me and often used to comment on how she never saw me and my brother together) There was plenty of fun to be had and I enjoyed my time.

 

But in the sixth form a new boy joined. To add some background, he was the son of my English teacher, who I had had more than a couple of run-ins with, he had transferred from a school that did not take post 16 students and settled in quickly making friends and enjoying school. I took an almost instant dislike to him, no reason – I just didn’t like him much, I reserve the right.

 

It started with small things, withering looks, snide comments, never missing an opportunity to say something unpleasant. I am, by nature, quite cowardly so there where never any physical confrontations – just making the most of chances to ridicule him.

 

Then came the election. I don’t even remember what the election was for, some student voice/council type thing. My nemesis stood for election, obviously too big an opportunity for me to miss, I stood against him and ran a counter campaign. Posters, badges, leaflets – all slightly ridiculous, a bit unpleasant and quite unnecessary; but I did it anyway, and in an aggressive manner that I enjoyed rather too much.

 

This was the beginning of the end, after that my short attention span lost interest (girls, beer and work avoidance taking up a large part of my small brain.) The remainder of the time at school turned into passing scowls and mostly mutual contempt.

 

Fast forward 30+ years……

 

There is a fabulous independent picture house near where I live. The manager organises regular screenings for disabled children, it is a model of what an independent cinema should be showing a great range of films and being accessible, well maintained and well run. Guess who the manager is. In a spell of remorse for my reprehensible and egregious behaviour I thought I would attempt some restorative steps.

 

When I checked on Facebook I found his profile, he is enjoying life as a writer, cinema manager, dad and musician. I didn’t know if this blast from the past would add anything to the quality of his life, or just rake up a bunch of stuff he has moved on from. It felt arrogant and conceited to intrude on his life in this way so I decided to let sleeping dogs lie.

 

It was at this point of finding out what he was doing that I found that one of the books he has written is about his time at school. It is a fact-based work of fiction, though some names stayed the same. My best friend Claire appears as the love interest, and the main protagonist in the bullying stakes has the same name as me, he is portrayed as a real lowlife, cowardly, duplicitous and full of himself.

 

This is not how I would choose to be immortalised, but I guess I earned it. I have included, in the spirit of fairness, the link to his book. If you want to know what I was like as a foolish young man (not my own rose-tinted opinion).

 

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Young-Punks-Andy-Botterill-ebook/dp/B005F60U2W/ref=sr_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1405444663&sr=1-3&keywords=andy+botterill

Halfway along the corridor

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I once worked in a school with a single, long corridor running the entire length of the school. All the classrooms staffrooms, libraries, halls and other areas came off this one central feature of the building. I was never quite sure how this unusual design came about.

At one end of the corridor was the entrance to the school, the reception, the head teachers’ office and the staffroom. Along the way were the classrooms, arranged in descending chronological order; from year 6 down to Reception. The rooms all had glass walls, enabling you to look in as you passed and see the progressively younger children on the shrinking furniture like an Alice In Wonderland type of mystic portal.

I was working with the youngest children, 4 and 5 year olds, at the farthest reaches of the school. Nobody much bothered us at that end of the corridor; it was too far to walk, with too many other distractions along the way. So it was a little separate empire which only those who had a specific mission visited.

The downside of this architectural arrangement was the vast distance involved in getting a cup of tea at break time. By the time you had negotiated the whole length of the school, visited the loo and got into the staff room there was barely time to make tea. Once it was made it was too hot to drink straight away and, as carrying a scalding hot cup of tea the full length of the corridor was not an option, I usually just had a glass of water.

One of the plus sides of this not terribly convenient arrangement was the opportunity to see what everybody else was doing. Pausing to look at displays of children’s work, meeting groups of students engaged in various activities, meeting other adults along the way. Just the thing for someone as nosey as me.

One of the adults I used to look forward to meeting was a young, enthusiastic and ambitious teacher working with the Year 3 classes. He was always ready to stop and chat, we had some shared interests and I always liked the way he was around his students. It was as we stopped to talk one morning he showed me the impressive new display he had put outside his room. It was a 3D display of thumb pots his class had made using careful techniques they had been taught in art. In the absence of any clay they had found and used some brown plasticine for this project.

It was later in the day, as I made the long walk to the staff room for lunch, that I noticed his display had been tampered with. At some point one or more children had stopped to admire the pots, and had taken it upon themselves to reorganise it. All the brown plasticine pots had been remodelled to create a frighteningly realistic display of what can only be described as poo, dog logs if you will.

Arriving in the staff room I told the teacher whose class it was, thinking he would laugh and roll his eyes. He didn’t, he abandoned his lunch and rushed off to sort it out, and never spoke of it again.

I was reminded of all this last week when I found out that the teacher concerned has just been appointed to be my line manager in the new job I start after Easter. I will not speak of the plasticine ploppies unless he does though.